In summary

Becerra escalated a ballot box battle with the California Republican Party, asking the courts to force the GOP to hand over subpoenaed information.

California’s top lawyer escalated a ballot box battle with the state Republican party today, asking the courts to force the GOP to hand over subpoenaed information.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra petitioned the Sacramento Superior Court to order the party to provide details about the location of private ballot boxes it set up, and the voters who left ballots in them. Some boxes were placed at gun stores, churches, and GOP party offices.

“Our work to ensure that all voters have confidence that their vote will count moves forward,” Becerra said in a statement. “To the extent that unauthorized ballot drop boxes are redeployed, our investigation is ongoing and we will act where necessary.”

The California Republican Party made clear it has no intention of backing down or cooperating with state officials. It branded Becerra’s latest move as “authoritarian bullying tactics.”

“This is an abuse of power,” Hector Barajas, state GOP spokesman, said in a statement, adding that the subpoenas infringe on the right to privacy.

Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla sounded the alarm about the GOP boxes earlier this month, predicting voter confusion in the three counties targeted: Orange, Los Angeles, and Fresno. Republicans insist state law allows them to collect ballots this way.

Indeed, California law allows voters to have someone else drop off their ballots as long as that person signs the ballot envelope. But the GOP points to the state elections code, which says a ballot won’t be disqualified if the designee failed to sign it.

With little success thus far, Democratic leaders subpoenaed information about the ballot boxes “to protect the security and integrity of the voting process,” Becerra’s petition says. The attorney general said the state wants to ensure all ballots reach county election officials in time to be counted.

The subpoenas requested the names, addresses, and birth dates of anyone who deposited a ballot in the private boxes. They also ask for the number and location of boxes that have been removed or remain in place. State officials say they want to ensure voters are aware they can track their ballot and see if it was delivered to election officials. 

In its petition, the state says that around Oct. 5, the Fresno County Republican Party chairman delivered a dozen boxes across the county. One box was left at a smog emissions test business in Clovis, where “an unsecured cardboard box was placed behind the front desk.” The sign on the box read “Authorized Secure Ballot Drop.”

An advertisement on the Fresno County Republican Party website promoted the box location, saying, “President Trump is very concerned about the lack of security with mail-in ballots… Mark your ballot completely and then walk it in, as soon as possible, to one of the secure locations listed below. Make sure your vote counts!”

Votebeat is a national media collaboration about the administration and integrity of, and issues regarding, the unprecedented 2020 election. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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Michael Lozano leads CalMatters’ Youth Journalism Initiative assessing the state of California’s journalism education and industry pipeline. He previously covered election administration for CalMatters...