California officials and the state’s Republican Party clashed on Friday over the future of unauthorized ballot drop boxes installed by the GOP, with Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra saying that he was issuing subpoenas as part of an ongoing investigation.
The disagreement comes after the California Republican Party installed dozens of unauthorized ballot drop boxes in at least four counties, mostly in Southern California where there are competitive House races this year. The party claims it did this as part of an above-board effort to legally collect and return people’s ballots.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla asserted on Friday that the California Republican Party had agreed to “no longer deploy these unstaffed, unsecured, unofficial and unauthorized ballot drop boxes.” He has previously said the ballot boxes were illegal under state law.
Unofficial ballot boxes, which appeared in Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, “seem to have been removed,” he said.
“Despite their client’s rhetoric in the press, we’ve been in communication with legal counsel for the California Republican Party and they have committed to a number of significant concessions in their ballot collection activities,” Padilla said in a statement Friday. “Among other things, they will not make available or condone the use of unstaffed, unsecured unofficial ballot drop boxes.”
The California Republican Party said Wednesday that it would not comply with the state’s cease-and-desist order issued Monday. Lawyers for the group asserted that all of the ballot boxes deployed by the party are indoors, staffed by volunteers or party officials, secure and not labeled “official.”
While images of the ballot boxes have shown the boxes outdoors and labeled as “official,” the state GOP said it did not authorize the use of that term and had it removed “within hours.” A photo of one box outside was taken while the box was being delivered to a church, they added.
Becerra said during the press conference Friday that in conversations with the state party, his office had made clear what they believe the law requires and that they’re prepared to enforce it.
“We have issued some subpoenas to the state Republican Party, and so our investigation is ongoing,” he added.
The state GOP, however, asserted that Padilla and Becerra had wrongly accused them of violations they did not commit.
“The Secretary of State and Attorney General didn’t know the facts and didn’t bother to learn them before accusing us on Monday,” the group tweeted Friday. “We can’t agree to not do something we weren’t doing to begin with. They could have shortened this press conference by simply saying ‘Sorry.'”
Hector Barajas, spokesman for the California Republican Party, asserted that they “made no concession” to Padilla and Becerra.
“In fact, in two phones calls with nine Attorney General lawyers, they never requested the California Republican Party to do anything except provide information about our program and to turn over records, including names of voters which we have declined to do,” Barajas added.
Ballot collection is allowed in the state but must abide by the existing laws which include specifics on chain of custody, Padilla said, adding that “the Republican Party is ensuring that those measures are being taken, then that’s fine.”
Padilla’s office sent a five-page memo to counties earlier this week explaining their interpretation of the relevant state laws, which regulate ballot drop boxes and ballot collection efforts by third parties.
Padilla’s office says state law only permits election officials — not political parties — to establish drop boxes for voters to return their ballots. Therefore, the GOP-installed boxes are illegal.
The memo also said Republicans violated laws on ballot collection, which is pejoratively called “ballot harvesting.” California lets voters designate any “person” to return their ballot on their behalf, often a family member of a volunteer from a political campaign. But the GOP drop boxes eliminated this person-to-person part of the process, which is a key safeguard against fraud.