SACRAMENTO (CBS SF/AP) — California's Democratic attorney general sued the state Republican Party on Tuesday, asking a judge to make them hand over the names and contact information of every voter who used one of the GOP's unofficial ballot drop boxes.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla — both Democrats — last week ordered Republicans to remove their unofficial drop boxes, declaring them to be illegal.
But they relented on Friday after GOP leaders said the boxes were only used as tools to collect ballots under the state's "ballot harvesting" law.
Becerra is still investigating how the GOP is using the drop boxes. Friday, he issued subpoenas to state and local Republican party officials ordering them to reveal the location of every box plus the names, addresses and dates of birth for everyone who had used them.
GOP leaders refused, saying that information is protected by the Constitution and disclosing it would "violate the secrecy of the ballot and the trust of the voters."
Becerra filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to force Republicans to comply, saying in a news release he is "doing everything in our power to protect the integrity of our elections."
"Because the election date is quickly approaching, it is critical that the State ensure that any ballot that was deposited into a drop box is able to be confirmed as having reached a county elections official for counting," Becerra and other attorneys wrote in a petition filed Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court.
California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas called Becerra's lawsuit "an abuse of power." Republicans say their boxes are not in public places like sidewalks, but are placed in churches, gun stores and Republican Party field offices — all private property with the owners' consent.
"We will stand up to this type of authoritarian bullying tactics," Barajas said. "The California Republican Party will not provide the Secretary of State or Attorney General a list of Californians who attend religious services, frequent firearms retailers, participate in political events, or engage in any other lawful activity."
This year, California mailed ballots to all active registered voters — more than 21 million people. The goal is to encourage people to vote remotely instead of in person on Election Day to avoid the risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
Once a voter has completed a ballot, anyone can return it. The most common way is to put it in the mail in a postage-paid envelope provided by the county elections office. But political parties often collect ballots from supporters, a practice known as "ballot harvesting" that is banned in some states but is legal in California.
Ballot collectors only have two requirements: They can't be paid based on the number of ballots they gather, and they must sign the ballots and state their relationship to the voter. However, county election officers will still count ballots that harvesters have not signed.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda's campaign has asked volunteers to use their porches or the outside of their homes as "neighborhood ballot hubs" for people to drop off their ballots. Meanwhile, Republicans have set up unofficial drop boxes in counties with closely contested U.S. House races, including Rouda's district.
State officials say these drop boxes are illegal because the law says only county election officers have the authority to set up ballot drop boxes. They worry unofficial boxes would confuse voters.
But Republican Party leaders say they are collecting ballots just like Democrats do — they just put them in a box. They say the boxes are not available to the general public and are staffed by volunteers, including pastors, to collect ballots from those who choose to give them.
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