SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP/CBS13) — California’s Democratic attorney general asked a judge Tuesday to make the state Republican Party hand over the names and contact information of every person who used one of the GOP’s unofficial ballot drop boxes to vote.
Last week state officials ordered the party to remove all of the unofficial drop boxes. But officials relented after GOP leaders said the boxes were no longer labeled as “official” and were used only as tools to collect ballots under the state’s “ballot harvesting” law.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra continued to investigate the boxes and issued subpoenas to state and local party leaders, ordering them to reveal the location of every box, plus the names, addresses and dates of birth for everyone who had used them. Becerra’s office said it wants to contact those voters “to provide them with information about their options for tracking whether their vote was properly delivered.”
GOP leaders refused, saying Becerra’s request “seeks constitutionally protected information and seeks to violate the secrecy of the ballot and the trust of voters” who gave their ballots to the California Republican Party to be delivered.
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“We issued subpoenas and interrogatories to determine the extent to which the deployment of unauthorized ballot drop boxes may have impacted Californians,” Becerra said. “To the extent that unauthorized ballot drop boxes are redeployed, our investigation is ongoing and we will act where necessary.”
California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas called Becerra’s court action “an abuse of power.”
“We will stand up to this type of authoritarian bullying tactics,” Barajas said.
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 for gathering ballots, 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.
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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. 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.
Republican Party leaders have refused to say where the drop boxes are or how many ballots they have collected from them.