Trump urges California GOP to continue using 'illegal' ballot drop boxes

Trump urges California GOP to continue using 'illegal' ballot drop boxes
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Credit: Gage Skidmore

President Donald Trump urged California Republicans to defy a state order to remove fake "official" ballot drop boxes after numerous top officials called them "illegal."

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday issued an order to the California GOP and three county chapters requiring the removal of unofficial ballot drop boxes erected in front of locations like gyms, gun stores and churches that were falsely marked "official."

Trump, however, urged the party to fight the order in court.

"You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this? But haven't the Dems been doing this for years?" the president tweeted, drawing a dubious comparison between the boxes and the legal "ballot harvesting" efforts by Democrats that have drawn his ire. "See you in court. Fight hard Republicans!"

Trump's call came after Becerra, Padilla and Gov. Gavin Newsom, all Democrats, labeled the Republican effort "illegal."

"Nothing reeks of desperation quite like the Republican Party organization these days -- willing to lie, cheat, and threaten our democracy all for the sake of gaining power," Newsom tweeted. "These unofficial drop boxes aren't just misleading, they are illegal."

Trump's comments also came after the California Republican Party already vowed to defy Monday's order.

"Screw you!" Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said in response to Newsom's tweet, according to Politico. "You created the law, we're going to ballot harvest."

Fresno County Republican Chairman Fred Vanderhoof, who installed a dozen collection boxes, including one which was labeled an "Authorized Secure Ballot Drop," claimed to GVWire that a 2016 ballot harvesting law passed by Democrats allowed the party to install drop boxes falsely marked as "official."

"We are doing nothing illegal," he insisted. "The whole ballot harvesting law is purposely designed very loosely so the Democrats can cheat, which they are doing in large numbers. They can do ballot harvesting, but we can't. That's what they're saying, so they're hypocritical."

State officials rejected Republican claims that falsely-marked collection boxes were allowed under the law permitting ballot harvesting, which permits a third-party to submit ballots on voters' behalf.

The offices of the attorney general and secretary of state said in a cease-and-desist order to the GOP that the law required "persons to whom a voter entrusts their ballot to return to county election officials provide their name, signature and relationship to the voter."

Becerra and Padilla also argued during a Monday conference call that the boxes were "illegal," because they were designed to trick voters by claiming to be "official." The boxes lack the security requirements mandated for official collection boxes installed by election officials, they added.

"We hope that the message goes out loud and clear to anyone who is trying to improperly solicit, obtain and manage a citizen's vote that they are subject to prosecution," Becerra said. "I'm trying to be careful with how I say this, but the reports we are hearing are disturbing."

Some voters were stunned when they discovered they had tossed their ballots into an unofficial collection box marked an "Official Ballot Drop Box."

California GOP spokesman Hector Barajas told The New York Times that Republicans would continue to operate the boxes and not label them to make it clear that they were set up by the party rather than "official" drop boxes set up by the state.

Becerra and Padilla said they would consider legal action if the party fails to comply by their Oct. 15 deadline.

"Anyone who knowingly engages with the tampering or misuse of the vote is subject to prosecution," Becerra said.

"If they refuse to comply," Padilla added, "we'll of course entertain all of our legal options."

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