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California Republican Party says it will not comply with state’s cease and desist order on ballot drop boxes

Unofficial Ballot Box
Jessica Mahoney
This photo obtained by CNN shows an unofficial ballot box at a sporting goods store in Fresno, California.

(CNN) The California Republican Party said Wednesday it will not comply with the state's cease-and-desist order over unofficial ballot drop boxes placed in at least four counties, escalating a brewing political showdown ahead of the November election.

The unauthorized ballot boxes, which state officials have called illegal, have been found in at least four counties across the state: Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and Fresno.

"Ballot harvesting program will continue," California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said in a statement to CNN.

The fight over the unofficial drop boxes comes as the coronavirus pandemic has led to historic interest in mail-in voting, even as President Donald Trump and the GOP have spent months attacking the integrity of mail ballots and fighting in court against drop boxes. Trump has repeatedly made unfounded claims that the election tally will be fraudulent because of the proliferation of mail-in voting and drop box usage and has warned that he may not agree to a peaceful transfer of power due to those misleading beliefs.

The party made their intentions clear in a letter to the California Secretary of State on Wednesday. In the letter, attorneys for the state GOP say all of the ballot boxes deployed by the party are indoors, staffed by volunteers or party officials, secure and not labeled "official."

While images of the ballot boxes have shown the boxes labeled as "official," the state GOP said it did not authorize the use of that term and had it removed.

"The California Republican Party did not promote, or authorize the promotion of, the secure boxes as 'official mail drop boxes,'" the letter states. "When we learned that a sign using the word 'official' was used in some locations on Saturday, October, 10, 2020, we corrected that error immediately and within hours."

A spokesperson for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, told CNN his office "is in the process of reviewing the CA Republican Party's response letter."

Casting the unofficial boxes as "wrong no matter who is doing it," Padilla had explained to CNN's Chris Cuomo on "Prime Time" Monday evening that the operation doesn't have a "chain of custody, and we don't have the requirements or regulations for these fake drop boxes as you do for the official drop boxes."

"We have a ton of requirements on official drop boxes," he continued. "That's where we should be driving voters to."

The deadline for the California Republican Party to comply or respond to the order is Thursday night.

Barajas said Wednesday in an interview with CNN affiliate KABC that "a lot" of ballot boxes have been distributed statewide and the party may expand the program because "it's going well."

"We're going to continue this program," Barajas emphasized in the interview. "If you want to take us to court, then we'll see you in court."

Trump earlier this week encouraged the GOP to not comply and fight the order in court.

"You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this? But haven't the Dems been doing this for years? See you in court. Fight hard Republicans!" Trump tweeted Tuesday night, inaccurately describing state laws, which allow any party to collect ballots as long as it is done in person.

While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots do occur, it is nowhere near a widespread problem in the US election system.

But that hasn't stopped Trump and his allies from pushing a conspiratorial message against drop boxes, with the California dispute marking just the latest flashpoint.

CNN election law analyst Rick Hasen said the unauthorized drop boxes were "not secure" and that the GOP was "asking for trouble."

"Whether or not it is technically legal, it's extremely problematic for voters," Hasen said who is also a law professor at the University of California-Irvine.

This story has been updated with additional information Wednesday.

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