(Headline USA)The state Republican Party has removed their unstaffed, unofficial ballot drop boxes that Democrat state officials claimed were illegal, despite their compliance with the state’s controversial ballot-harvesting law.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla—himself facing a possible Federal Elections Commission probe for hiring a pro-Biden firm to conduct illegal get-out-the-vote operations—said Friday, and subpoenas are being issued to get more information about them.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra was leveraging the power of his office to fish for possible election-law violations against the rival party.
Republicans confirmed they had yanked boxes that were improperly labeled “official” but say they will continue to use dozens of other boxes without the labels that have been sent to various counties.
The back-and-forth comes after a weeklong controversy over the GOP’s ballot collection in California and as votes are already pouring in to county offices in what’s expected to be a very high turnout for the November election.
Last weekend, California election officials said they learned Republicans had been using their own drop boxes to collect ballots from voters at churches, political offices and some businesses in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties, which all have hotly contested congressional races in a state that has been dominated of late by left-wing politics.
The 2018 election was the first in which California used its relaxed ballot-harvesting policies, which were signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
The laws resulted in roughly half of the state’s already sparse GOP congressional delegation losing their seats—despite having believed they had won on election night—as absentee ballots continued to trickle in and be counted for days afterward.
The state was forced afterward to settle a lawsuit requiring that it expunge millions of inactive voters from it rolls, and Los Angeles county arrested a handful of people for improperly soliciting and paying homeless people to submit ballots.
California Democrats have only ramped up their suspicious efforts for the presidential election year, however.
Like many blue states, they have used the coronavirus as an excuse to plug mail-in voting, which election integrity watchdogs warn is prime for massive vote fraud.
The state—one of the largest and most populous in the country—passed a law that said it would mail ballots automatically to everyone on its voter rolls.
The move is sure to inflate the popular vote tally for Democrat Joe Biden, resulting in another election scenario in which incumbent President Donald Trump could potentially win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote by a considerable margin.
More than 1.5 million ballots have already been returned in California, a tenfold increase from the same period four years ago, Padilla said.
Trump pointed to vote fraud in the 2016 election after failed candidate Hillary Clinton edged him out in the official tally with some 2.8 million voters.
He has again warned about the suspicious circumstances that Democrats have put into effect in the upcoming election.
However, his opponents have answered back by waging a barrage of lawsuits to challenge election norms, attempting in many cases to assert emergency powers.
Despite frequently denying the existence of vote fraud when it favors them, Democrats and state officials complained that the GOP boxes were misleading and threatened election security.
The state contended the law only allows for secure drop boxes set up by local election officials and sent a letter ordering the state Republican Party to remove its boxes.
The GOP said it would change how the boxes were labeled to avoid confusion but would continue to use them to collect ballots under the state’s rules allowing ballot harvesting.
Since then, Republican Party officials—following the same rules as their Democrat counterparts—have repeatedly declined to say how many boxes they’re still using or all the counties the boxes are located.
On Friday, Padilla said the problematic boxes reported last weekend were removed.
Becerra said subpoenas were being issued to obtain information about the boxes, and he urged anyone collecting ballots during the election to do so in line with the law.
But he wouldn’t say whether the state GOP’s purported plan to keep using boxes to collect ballots was legal.
“We may be told one thing in person or we may hear or receive reports of activities but until we get evidence of it we have to assume everyone is trying to comply with the law,” Becerra told reporters.
Republicans said they believed the state’s order this week was an attempt to intimidate their supporters, and that they corrected the “official” label as soon as they were made aware.
Tom Hiltachk, the party’s general counsel, said the GOP would direct its harvesters to sign the ballots where possible to show who was delivering them but that ballots in at least one county—Contra Costa—didn’t include space for them to sign.
Many other states require voter and witness signatures to certify their identities, although Democrats have pushed to eliminate the requirement this year.
“There’s no concession to the state because the state never asked us to concede anything,” Hiltachk told reporters.
Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, said it sounds like state officials may want more time to investigate and that Becerra may be treading carefully to avoid being seen as partisan.
“He wants to make it clear that this isn’t about punishing Republicans, it’s about enforcing the law,” she said.
“If he can kind of take a step back and say, ‘When I see it, we’ll move forward,’ that, I think, allows him to try and stay ever so slightly out of the political mudslinging,” she claimed, without evidence.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press