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California GOP won't comply with cease-and-desist order to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes

Officials order removal of illegal drop boxes
Officials order removal of illegal drop boxes... 06:45

The California Republican Party won't be complying with Secretary of State Alex Padilla's cease-and-desist order to stop the use of unofficial ballot drop boxes, GOP officials told reporters on a call Wednesday. 

Party officials claim the drop boxes are legal under California's ballot harvesting laws.

Republican staffers put up illegal ballot drop boxes in three counties across the state over the weekend. Some of the drop boxes were falsely labeled "official," and law enforcement authorities are still searching for outstanding witnesses and suspects. But the state Republican Party has no plans to remove the boxes and may even add more. 

The California GOP says Padilla "mischaracterized" its ballot collection effort and insists it's not doing anything wrong. Padilla is arguing that harvested ballots must be signed by the voter and the person collecting it, and that person must identify his or her relationship to the voter. Padilla says that collecting the ballots at these unofficial boxes means neither party would be signing the ballot, which makes it illegal. 

Republicans counter that Assembly Bill 306 prohibits "disqualifying a ballot solely because the person returning it did not provide on the identification envelope his or her name, relationship to the voter, or signature," the statute reads.

"There is nothing illegal about the collection of ballots provided by voters, on a certainly volunteer basis, and entrusted to the persons who are operating that local election, or local party office, from transmitting those ballots," California Republican Party general counsel Tom Hiltachk said. "We're going to continue with the program because it complies with the law," he added.  

Regarding the boxes that appeared on social media with the label "official" on them, Hiltachk conceded that was an "unfortunate" mistake from an "overzealous" volunteer. He called it an isolated incident that was taken care of within hours. But the tweet showing the box with the "official" label was sent Thursday night, and it wasn't until there were news reports about the box Saturday that the GOP fixed the error.  

Hiltachk wouldn't say how many ballots were collected or how many boxes the party has placed around the state. While arguing that ballot harvesting is unsafe and the laws around it need to be tightened, Hiltachk and the California GOP also claimed they've put together a safe ballot harvesting program.

The California Republican Party said the ballot boxes are not in public areas, that they are secure and always staffed. The staff then drops off the ballots at county elections offices usually the next day, but always within the 72-hour allotted time period, the party said.  

"California Republicans continue to be and would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting, but I have said from day one that we are going to be competitive and we are going to use the same rules and laws that Democrats have been using for years," said California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Milan Patterson. "We're responding to the secretary of state's order by showing him that he has no foundation to stand on, nothing in any laws or regulations cited in the SoS' advisory indicates that private organization secure containers are not permitted."

It's unclear what the next step will be, but California's statewide leadership, all Democrats, aren't likely to back down.

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