Judge rejects California attorney general’s effort to investigate GOP ballot boxes

Two people talk in front of a "CA GOP" sign
Information from a ballot collection program organized by the California Republican Party does not have to be turned over to state officials under a decision from a Sacramento judge on Wednesday.
(Los Angeles Times)

A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled.

The decision by Judge David I. Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

A one-page form signed by Brown says there is “no immediate harm or irreparable injury” to the state in the Republican Party’s refusal to comply with a subpoena seeking information about voters whose ballots have been collected and the locations of the private drop boxes in communities across the state.

“The California Republican Party will continue to help Californians vote safely and securely by continuing to gather ballots in trusted places, and deliver them promptly according to law,” Hector Barajas, a party spokesman, said in a written statement.


Republican leaders have sparred with Becerra and Padilla, both Democrats, for the last two weeks over the GOP program that relies on California’s ballot collection law, which states that a voter may “designate a person” to return their completed ballot to an elections office. The 2016 law does not limit the number of ballots a person can gather from voters — a longtime point of contention for Republicans, who have sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials over a practice they deride as “ballot harvesting.”

But this year, Republican Party leaders chose to embrace the collection process by using their own ballot drop boxes, which were deployed without any notification to elections officials. This month, social media postings showed some of the containers with signs wrongly marking them “authorized” or “official.”

Becerra’s court filing alleged the GOP effort “caused confusion among voters, prompted complaints from county elections officials alarmed about their use, and raised serious concerns about whether the appropriate chain of custody was being observed for ballots deposited” in the boxes.

State and local Republican officials blamed the signs on “overzealous” volunteers and said they were quickly taken off the drop boxes, arguing that, without the erroneous signs, there is nothing about their effort to cause concern. They have accused Becerra and Padilla of failing to scrutinize the ballot collection activities of Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups, many of which began conducting those efforts in 2018.

A spokesman for Padilla said Tuesday that other ballot collection efforts in the state are being examined as complaints are filed, but he declined to elaborate.

The GOP drop box program included deliveries of the receptacles to churches and private businesses in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties. Boxes were also placed at party headquarters locations. Last week, the pastor of Freedom’s Way Baptist Church in Castaic told L.A. County elections officials that the box the church had been using was no longer on the property and provided an email confirming that information from the deputy executive director of the state GOP.

Republican officials have refused to provide information about how many private drop boxes are in use or how many ballots have been collected. State law requires those ballots to be delivered to a county elections office within three days of collection.