California Republican leaders refuse to remove unauthorized ballot boxes

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Republican leaders in California have no plans to remove unauthorized ballot drop-off boxes placed by the party in at least three counties — despite a cease-and-desist order from the state’s chief elections official.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, along with Attorney General Xavier Becerra — both Democrats — set a Thursday deadline earlier this week for Republicans to remove the boxes, which have recently popped up at local candidate headquarters, political party offices, churches and other locations in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties.

Padilla warned state GOP officials could face both civil and criminal charges that can carry felony penalties of up to four years in prison if they did not comply.

Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have expressed concerns that voters will confuse the Republican boxes with official ballot drop boxes that are monitored by county election officials.

But Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney and member of the Republican National Committee, called the cease-and-desist letter “a voter suppression effort, aimed at intimidating California Republican Party officials and volunteers from gathering and delivering ballots.”

Tom Hiltachk, the party’s general counsel, said Wednesday that the boxes comply with the state’s “ballot harvesting” law.

That law permits people to collect ballots from voters and return them to county election offices to be counted.

Each of the boxes are locked and people are on hand to monitor them, according to Hitachk.

“The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal,” he argued. “If we have to use a bag, then we’ll use a bag.”

Padilla’s office received a flurry of reports about the boxes over the weekend.

Jordan Tygh, a regional field director for the California Republican Party, with an unofficial ballot drop box.Twitter

Images showed that some of them had been labeled as “official,” despite that not being the case.

Hiltachk blamed the “official” label on “perhaps an overzealous volunteer.”

Padilla’s office reported Wednesday that Californians “are voting early in historic numbers” — with more than 1.5 million votes already cast in the state.

At this point in the 2016 election cycle, only 150,000 people had returned their vote-by-mail ballots.

Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, told the Associated Press that people who place their ballots in the Republican boxes will still have their votes counted.

But the party could still be held accountable, she said.

“California is not going to discard all those ballots,” she said. “Could you use that lack of penalty and essentially exploit it to your benefit? I guess my response is, it is still not what the law provides you should do.”

With Post wires