Top California officials say state Republicans have agreed not to use the unofficial ballot drop boxes that have been popping up around the state, but the GOP denies it's done anything wrong and says it plans to continue using them. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra told reporters on Friday that the state Republican Party has agreed to "no longerballot drop boxes."
"The Republican Party's deployment of these unofficial and deceptive drop boxes were in violation of state law and they created voter confusion," Padilla said.
But the state GOP said Padilla and Becerra "didn't bother to learn the facts before accusing us" of wrongdoing. "They want to do anything to confuse voters and our supporters, and let our detractors describe our efforts as criminal," California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Milan Patterson told reporters Friday afternoon.
California Republicans say they never used unauthorized, unstaffed and unsecure drop boxes and insist they didn't make any concessions to Padilla and Becerra.
"In two phone 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," Hector Barajas said, a spokesman for the CRP said in a statement.
Padilla and Becerra told reporters their investigation is ongoing, and they have issued a subpoena for more information about the state GOP's ballot collection efforts. The California Republican Party General Counsel Tom Hiltachk said that as of Friday afternoon, he hasn't received a subpoena.
Becerra said theearlier this week was issued "after getting information and reports of activity with regard to voter and ballot drop boxes."
Over the weekend, local news outlets reported ballot drop boxes in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties. One of the reports included a California Republican Party staffer posting a photo of a drop box in Orange County with the label "official" on it while another report showed a similar box outside a church in Fresno County.
The California Republican Party admitted the "official" label that appeared on the boxes was a mistake from an "overzealous" staffer. That was corrected within hours of the GOP finding out about it, according to Hiltachk.
Regarding the ballot box outside the church, Hiltachk said the pastor who posted the photo online "was taking a picture of the box as it was being delivered to his church." Hiltachk said on Wednesday that the box was in transit from a vehicle to the church and never left unattended on the sidewalk as it appeared in the photo.
"It's understandable that if you thought that was our program that perhaps a local registrar or voter would be concerned about that," Hiltachk said earlier this week. "But that is not the program that's being undertaken here and any characterization of it in that way is simply false," he added.
In a letter responding to the cease-and-desist order, the California Republican Party said it intends to "accept VBM ballots voluntarily delivered by voters to a local Party office or headquarters through Election Day." The state party also said it would secure the ballots in a locked box until they are delivered to election officials, no later than 72 hours from receipt.
Furthermore, California Republicans said they will "ensure that such boxes are attended to at all times the office is open to the public" and make the boxes available to any person or organization wanting to participate in ballot harvesting.
"The California Republican Party has not and will not place boxes unattended, outdoors, or in other places where the general public gather; and represented that such boxes are 'official' VBM drop boxes," the California GOP wrote in a letter to Padilla and Becerra.
Barajas told CBS News the GOP will continue to have ballot drop boxes at locations like churches and party offices where they will always be staffed and remain secure as originally planned.
"What they accused us of doing was never done," Hiltachk told reporters on Friday. "What we've told them is that the program we had been undertaking, we are going to continue to undertake under those terms."
Becerra said he and Padilla "will continue the investigation" and "respond" when "credible evidence" suggests that California election law is not being complied with.
"We wait to see what the Republican Party does," Becerra said. "Based on what we find the evidence to be in terms of their activities, that will determine what we do and that's why I have said we are in ongoing conversation," he added.
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