The Dropbox debacle, sparked by California Republicans apparently breaking state law, immediately brought new chaos to the frenzied and unprecedented 2020 election process.
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked historic interest in postal voting, but President Donald Trump and the GOP have spent months attacking the integrity of postal ballot papers and battling dropboxing in court. The California dispute is the latest focal point in this ongoing battle.
“Whether it’s technically legal or not, it’s extremely problematic for voters,” said CNN suffrage analyst Rick Hasen, who is also a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. He said the unauthorized Dropboxes are “not safe”
; and the GOP are “asking for trouble”.
California is sending ballots to all registered voters this year. Voters can send their ballots back or return them to official drop boxes. Anti-fraud measures are built into the process to ensure that the correct voter fills in the ballot papers and that drop boxes are protected from tampering.
The California Republican Party installed dozens of unauthorized ballot boxes in at least four counties of Southern California that will host competitive house races this year. The party claims it did so as part of an overarching effort to legally collect and return people’s ballot papers.
Election officials in the affected counties expressed alarm about the “deceptive” boxes. The California governor, attorney general and secretary of state – all Democrats – condemned the drop boxes and sent cease and desist orders urging the state’s GOP to remove the drop boxes by Thursday. No response had been received by late Tuesday, according to Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s press office.
Why did Republicans do this?
Republicans claimed they just wanted to use their makeshift drop boxes to collect people’s ballots and return them to election officials. The dropboxes were discovered in churches and gun stores in more conservative areas, suggesting that they should increase the turnout of GOP voters if there are competitive house races.
“Republicans are in a difficult position,” said Hasen. “On the one hand, you have the president criticizing the email vote, saying it is vulnerable to fraud. On the other hand, California Republicans have long relied on a strong email vote, to cast the votes. ” Republican vote. “
However, some Democrats claimed the Republicans were trying to rig the elections. California Governor Gavin Newsom said the incident had proven that Republicans were “lying, cheating and threatening our democracy in order to get to power” without any evidence that the GOP intended to manipulate ballots. Republicans deny any wrongdoing and accuse Democrats of hypocrisy.
Did the Republicans break the law?
Yes, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who oversees the elections. His office sent a five-page memo to the counties explaining the interpretation of relevant state laws governing ballot boxes and third party ballot collection.
According to Padilla’s office, the electoral law only allows election officials – not political parties – to set up dropboxes where voters can return their ballots. Therefore, the boxes installed by the GOP are illegal.
The memo also states that Republicans have violated the ballot collection laws that are pejoratively referred to as “ballot harvest”. In California, voters can designate any “person” who returns their ballot on their behalf, often a family member of a political campaign volunteer. The GOP drop boxes have eliminated that part of the person-to-person process that is an important safeguard against fraud.
Is there an investigation?
Becerra is “ready to take action to enforce state law should it become necessary,” his office said in the cease and desist letter from state GOP leaders.
Orange County prosecutors said Monday that they had “opened an investigation” into the unauthorized Dropbox. District Attorney Todd Spitzer, a Republican, said in a press release that he would “not tolerate anyone who interferes with someone’s ability to hear their voice in our democratic process” and assess whether criminal charges are warranted.
Fresno District Administrator Brandi Orth told CNN that she had received videos from a voter of illegal GOP dropboxes in her area and referred them to the Fresno District Attorney.
How does Trump react?
Trump has repeatedly undermined the integrity of the elections and lied about the spread of electoral fraud in California and other states. He falsely claimed that ballot boxes were dangerous and would lead to election fraud, and he threw himself into the California dispute with two tweets on Tuesday.
“You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this? But haven’t the Dems been doing this for years? See you in court. Fight tough Republicans!” Trump tweeted Tuesday night, inaccurately describing state laws that allow any party to collect ballots as long as it is done in person.
And in a previous tweet, Trump encouraged Republicans in two other reliably Democratic states to try similar tactics, saying, “New York and Illinois – do it!” While Trump seemed excited about the opportunity to file lawsuits about the Dropbox situation in California, the Trump campaign and Republicans failed to stop the court mail-in vote that cycle.
What happens next?
The next few days will determine whether this dispute escalates into a massive political showdown, leads to a full criminal investigation – or whether the Republicans silently decide to step down.
It is possible that Republicans were only trying to test the water as they are legally allowed, like their recent efforts to send unauthorized election monitors to polling stations in Philadelphia. Another spookier possibility, experts say, is that they knew the dropboxes were going to cause problems, but are trying to sow chaos and weaken public confidence in the postal voting process.
“I think conveying a coherent political strategy is a breeze,” said Jessica Huseman, CNN analyst, who works on voting rights and election management for ProPublica. “I think it was just one way for them to stir the pot, and I don’t know how effective it really was. In the end, the people holding the bag were members of the Republican Party and no one else.”