A voter places their ballot in a mail-in ballot drop-off box outside of a library ahead of Election Day on October 5, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
OAKLAND — President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to urge the California Republican Party to “fight on” in its move to collect ballots in unofficial “drop boxes’’ around the state, in defiance of legal threats from state officials.
Trump’s comments come a day after top California officials sent the state party a cease-and-desist notice, ordering them to remove the unofficial ballot drop boxes. The appearance of the boxes prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to accuse California Republicans of “willing to lie, cheat and threaten our democracy all for the sake of gaining power.”
Trump, in a Tuesday tweet, wrote, “You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this? But haven’t the Dems been doing this for years? See you in court. Fight hard Republicans!”
Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, have warned Republicans that if they do not remove their boxes by Thursday, they will face prosecution.
Trump’s support of the drop boxes has been echoed by defiant state GOP officials as the two major parties feud over election rules during the pandemic in California, where the state’s 21.2 million voters already have received their ballots by mail.
The boxes surfaced at Republican-friendly venues such as churches and gun shops as Californians last week began returning their mail ballots at a record pace. Because California is relying heavily on mail balloting this year, the state’s 58 counties have placed many more official drop boxes at various locations, from supermarkets to elections offices.
Republicans on Monday said relying on unofficial ballot boxes was no different than the “ballot harvesting” that Democrats organized with great success during the 2018 midterm elections. Under California law, third-party collection of ballots is legal as long as a voter formally authorizes another person to return their ballot for them. Democratic volunteers in the last election collected ballots from voters who indicated they wanted help submitting them.
Padilla and Becerra on Monday argued that the California GOP’s recent placement of unauthorized drop boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties differs from Democratic “ballot harvesting” efforts because voters assume their ballot will be delivered via an official-looking mechanism — all without signing their ballots.
They demanded GOP campaign officials stop using private containers marked as “official” drop boxes, saying official boxes are subject to state security standards and can only be installed by county registrars.
But the California Republican Party on Monday asserted that it would continue to rely on the boxes, potentially setting up a legal battle with state officials — as Trump alluded to in his Tuesday tweet.
Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron also argued Tuesday the move was legal. “This ballot collection box issue is simple,’’ she tweeted. “Republicans trying to expand voter access; Dems trying to suppress votes.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), appearing on Central Valley radio station KMJ Tuesday, had a terse response to Newsom: “Screw you! You created the law, we’re going to ballot harvest,’’ he said on “The Ray Appleton Show.”
And Fresno County Republican Party officials Tuesday also defended the move to set them up.
“We are doing nothing illegal,” Fresno County Republican Chair Fred Vanderhoof told GVWire, a local news site. “The whole ballot harvesting law is purposely designed very loosely so the Democrats can cheat, which they are doing in large numbers. They can do ballot harvesting, but we can’t. That’s what they’re saying. So they’re hypocritical.”
GVWire reported that Vanderhoof set up the boxes in 12 different locations — including a local smog check business, where a cardboard box was placed behind the front desk with a sign stating, “Authorized Secure Ballot Drop.”
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