An election worker looks over some of the hundreds of thousands of early mail-in ballots as they are processed at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, California, U.S., October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The California Republican Party has agreed to remove its unauthorized ballot drop boxes deemed illegal by state officials, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Friday. State law only permits election officials – not political parties – to establish drop boxes for voters to return their ballots. While California appears to be backing off its legal threats against the state’s Republican party, Padilla added that the investigation will remain ongoing and further legal action will be taken as necessary.

Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said all ballot boxes were moved indoors where they could be supervised and all signs portraying the boxes as official were removed. The party does not plan to have anyone sign for ballots when voters drop them off. In a press call on Friday, California Republican’s lawyer said the party would continue to accept vote-by-mail ballots via secure ballot boxes, although they would not be labeled as official, left outside or left unattended.

At a Friday press conference, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Padilla said that while ballot collection is allowed, state rules require that whoever assists with delivering a ballot sign the envelope to record a chain of custody. However, ballots without that signature would not be rejected either. The stance was a stark contrast from the forceful language of the earlier cease-and-desist order.

Last week, 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. Democrats said the boxes were misleading and threatened election security. Becerra and Padilla sent a cease and desist order Monday to stop the ballot boxes’ operation. Becerra and Padilla are both Democrats.

Following the order, President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the state Republican Party to “fight hard.” He also questioned why Democrats were allowed to collect ballots. Republicans said they were operating under a 2016 state law allowing an unlimited number of ballots to be collected by an individual or political parties and campaigns.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

California officials and Republican Party clash over future of unauthorized ballot drop boxes – CNN – 10/16/2020
California officials and the state’s Republican Party clashed on Friday over the future of unauthorized ballot drop boxes installed by the GOP, with Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra saying that he was issuing subpoenas as part of an ongoing investigation.

California allows Republican ballot boxes with safeguards – Politico – 10/16/2020
In an earlier response to Padilla, the California Republican Party said it would continue to accept mail ballots at boxes but promised some safeguards: The boxes will be attended to whenever the public has access to them, and ballots will be secured and then delivered to elections officials within the required 72-hour frame, the party said. The party pledged to not represent those boxes as “official,” saying a volunteer had done so in error, while arguing that the process was legal due to a 2018 law that loosened collection requirements.

CA Attorney General Backs Down, CAGOP Private Ballot Drop Boxes Will Remain – RedState – 10/16/2020
Padilla and Becerra were probably trying to save face just a bit, since their because their arguments and inflammatory rhetoric were utterly eviscerated by Hiltachk’s letter. He pointed out that despite the state’s insistence that the ballot harvester was required to sign each ballot harvested and state their voter, a clean-up bill passed in 2018 merely stated that there must be a place on the ballot return envelope for the harvester to sign, but that the ballot wouldn’t be invalidated if it wasn’t. So, that’s not a requirement.

Everybody claims victory in California GOP ballot box battle – CalMatters – 10/16/2020
California election law states that ballot collectors should include their name, their relationship to the voter and their signature on the ballot envelope. The Republican Party counters that because the law also instructs county officials not to disqualify a ballot solely for lacking that information, it isn’t illegal to set up a ballot collection operation that doesn’t require a signature.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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