▶ Watch Video: California elections officials order Republicans to remove illegal ballot drop boxes

The California Republican Party will not be complying with Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s cease-and-desist order to stop use of their 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 continue to search for outstanding witnesses and potential suspects. But the state’s Republican Party has indicated it won’t comply with an official order to remove the boxes, and may even add more. 

The California GOP says Padilla “mischaracterized” their ballot collection effort and insists they are not doing anything wrong. Padilla is arguing that harvested ballots must be signed by the voter and the person collecting it. Additionally, the person collecting it must identify their relationship to the voter. Padilla has said collecting the ballots at these boxes means both parties won’t be signing the ballot, which makes it illegal. 

Republicans are arguing 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. 

“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 said that was an “unfortunate” mistake from an “overzealous” volunteer. He claimed that it was an isolated incident that was taken care of within hours. However, the tweet showing the box with the “official” label was sent Thursday night, but it wasn’t until Saturday — after news reports surfaced — that the GOP fixed the error.  

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

The California GOP said the ballot boxes are not in public areas, 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 timeline, 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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