The California Republican Party, along with national GOP groups, filed a federal lawsuit on Sunday to halt Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to send mail-in ballots to all Californians who are registered to vote.
Earlier this month Newsom ordered all counties to send voters mail-in ballots ahead of November’s general election, citing health concerns amid COVID-19.
The suit alleges that Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, both Democrats, have overstepped their authority and that sending out vote-by-mail ballots will lead to theft and fraud.
Election experts have found voter fraud does take place, including with mail-in ballots, but is extremely rare.
“The governor does not have the authority under the Constitution to make up election laws,” Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing the state party, along with the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, told CapRadio on Monday.
“The United States Constitution provides that elections shall be determined in terms of the time, place and manner by Legislatures. The governor and the Secretary of State are not the Legislature.”
Dhillon added that California law already allows voters to request a mail-in ballot. She said the GOP groups would have no problem with the state sending out applications for voters to opt-in to vote-by-mail.
“We can do this safely,” she said. “We can even do more people voting by mail if they want to. We do not need to do it the way (Newsom) wants.”
The governor has said some in-person voting will be allowed in November, though Dhillon said Republicans object to the governor deciding where to locate those polling centers.
Newsom’s executive order says Padilla has been working with California election officials, voting rights advocates and other stakeholders on in-person voting plans. It adds that requirements for in-person voting would be shared with counties no later than May 30.
A spokesman for Newsom said the administration stands by the plan.
"California will continue to defend Californians' right to vote, including their right to vote by mail, and the right to hold an election that is safe, secure, and accessible. Voters shouldn't have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Jesse Melgar, the governor’s spokesman, said in a statement.
On Twitter, Padilla responded this way: “Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue — it’s a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety. Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years. This lawsuit is just another part of Trump’s political smear campaign against voting by mail. We will not let this virus be exploited for voter suppression.”
Along with challenging Newsom’s authority, the GOP lawsuit zeroes in on what it says are California’s ongoing problems with outdated registrations.
“By ordering that vote-by-mail ballots be automatically sent to every registered voter—including inactive voters, voters with invalid registrations, voters who have moved, voters who have died, and voters who don’t want a ballot—[Newsom] has created a recipe for disaster,” the lawsuit says.
Some Republicans have cited issues of voter roll maintenance as evidence of fraud. President Trump, for example, has falsely cited a January 2019 settlement California reached with the conservative group Judicial Watch as evidence. He has alleged the settlement shows California "admitted" there were "a million" illegal votes in the 2016 presidential election. CapRadio’s PolitiFact California rated that claim Pants On Fire.
In reality, the agreement Trump cited required Los Angeles County election officials to remove inactive registrations from voter rolls to comply with federal law. The 20-page settlement document, however, notes all parties agreed there was no admission of liability or wrongdoing by the state or county. It makes no mention of voter fraud or illegal voting.
Dhillon acknowledged cases of voter fraud are rare, but said any amount is too much. In recent weeks, Trump has said vote-by-mail hurts Republicans and has “tremendous potential for voter fraud.”
The record doesn’t support his claims, experts say.
“Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a “tremendous” potential for fraud,” Rick Hassen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine School of Law, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.
Hassen, however, agreed with Dhillon’s suggestion that states should give voters the option to ‘opt-in’ to absentee voting by sending them an application.
“They should not send the ballot itself until a voter requests one, since voting rolls in many states unfortunately are not accurate enough,” Hassen wrote in the op-ed.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.