Tulare County GOP may be harvesting ballots illegally

Rae Dean Strawn logs in one of the twelve ballots accumulated within the first half hour of being open. The Porterville office does not claim to have an official ballot box but encourages residents to drop their ballots off at their office to be hand delivered to the registrars office.

Republican offices in at least three California counties are engaging in possibly illegal ballot harvesting, according to the Secretary of State’s office, and the Republican Party of Tulare County appears to be using the same technique in the run-up to the November 3 election.

Local GOP Soliciting Ballots

Last week, a message distributed on social media invited voters in the Porterville area to return their vote-by-mail ballots to the GOP headquarters there, instead of mailing them directly to the Tulare County Elections Office.

“You can safely drop off your ballots at Republican Headquarters, …” the post read. “Believe me, we treat these ballots like gold and hand-deliver them to Visalia every couple of days. We do not leave them in headquarters overnight, but guard them.”

The post, made by Susan Baird Queen of Strathmore, lists an address in Porterville and times the office is open. It is not immediately clear if Queen is an official with the local GOP.

An individual who answered the Republican Party of Tulare County’s listed telephone number confirmed party volunteers are gathering mail-in ballots for later delivery, a practice known as ballot harvesting.

No Official Authorization

That individual also said the party has authorization from election officials to gather the ballots, though it is not clear which officials, state or local, may have given their permission. Local GOP officials have not answered repeated requests for clarification.

Tulare County Registrar of Voters Michelle Baldwin said her office was not informed of the GOP’s intent to harvest ballots and did not OK it. She was, in fact, unaware it was occurring.

“I don’t recall them checking ahead of time about doing that,” she said.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called the practice illegal and said investigations are underway.

“Operating unofficial ballot drop-boxes–especially those misrepresented as official drop-boxes–is not just misleading to voters, it’s a violation of state law,” a statement from Padilla said. “My office is coordinating with local officials to address the multitude of reports of unauthorized drop-boxes.”

Illegally Harvested Ballots Will Count

Under state law, if a mail-in or absentee ballot is returned by anyone other than the voter, the person delivering it must be authorized by the voter. While limits on who may return another’s ballot were changed recently, documentation of the person’s identity must still be provided, Baldwin said.

“Prior to 2018, a voter could authorize an agent from very specific categories. They had to be either a family member…a friend, somebody residing in their house. It was a larger list, but it was a very defined list,” she said. “In 2018, that list went away, and it was down to ‘authorized agent’ of your choosing. It no longer had to be from a particular category.”

According to Baldwin, in order to protect the votes and ensure they have been legally returned, the authorized agent must be identified and documented in a form printed on every ballot’s return envelope.

“I want them to fill out the information,” she said. “They have to write their name, they have to sign it and they have to list their relationship to the voters.”

Thanks to another recent change in the election code, failing to provide that information will not disqualify a ballot or keep it from being tallied, Baldwin said.

Legal or Not?

Prior to the 2018 change in the election code, harvesting ballots was expressly prohibited, and it may still be depending on how the law is interpreted.

According to Padilla’s office, official drop-boxes must be authorized and controlled by local elections officers, and operating an illegal drop-box is a felony that can carry a sentence of up to two years. In locations outside Tulare County where the GOP is harvesting votes, including at churches, drop-box locations have been intentionally mislabeled as official.

While state law still requires a voter’s authorized delivery agent and their relationship to the voter both be identified, ballots received without that authorization or supporting information cannot be disqualified under state law for that reason.

The state Republican Party is defending ballot harvesting, saying the change in authorized agent requirements allows it. Ironically, Republican members of the State Senate introduced legislation in May that would have made the practice expressly illegal, after blaming ballot harvesting for sweeping GOP losses in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats not hosting drop boxes

While the Tulare County Democratic Party is not hosting unofficial drop-boxes, Party Chair Suzanna Aguilera-Marrero defended using the practice as long as the law is followed.

“Harvesting is all right as long as the person who is voting gives permission, it’s OK,” she said. “We’re not doing that as a practice, but we’re encouraging anyone to help with people who don’t have transportation.”

Given the GOP’s past stance on ballot harvesting, Aguilera-Marrero said she hadn’t expected them to engage in it.

“I was surprised, also, they were doing it,” she said. “I haven’t seen any advertising about it.”

While the Tulare County Democratic Party is not actively harvesting ballots like their GOP counterpart, their volunteers are willing to help voters get their ballots to the Tulare County Elections Office.

“If they bring them, we’ll be happy to take them into the registrar’s office,” Aguilera-Marrero said. “These are unprecedented times. I want everyone to vote.”

GOP Defying Padilla

While Secretary of State Padilla has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the California GOP, the group’s leaders have announced their intention to continue to maintain private collection boxes, denying the practice is illegal. The South East Tulare County (SETCO) Republican Women’s Federated Office in Porterville continues to harvest ballots.

Wednesday afternoon, October 14–the same day Padilla’s letter was issued–a line of voters waited outside the SETCO office to drop off ballots. The local GOP’s office has been offering this as a service to Porterville residents, but it is a service that has not been authorized by the Tulare County Registrar of Voters Office.

“I don’t want to put them in a box. I want to hand them over to someone I trust,” said Christie Brown.

Brown, was in possession of at least eight mail-in ballots while her friend Lacey Sanchez was delivering two ballots. More than 10 additional people turned in ballots in a 15-minute period.

GOP-affiliated offices in Visalia are encouraging voters to hand in their ballots directly to the registrar’s office. Exeter’s Republican Women Federated does not have an election office this cycle.

100-plus Ballots Collected

Rae Dean Strawn, who manned the SETCO office on Wednesday, said the group has collected 106 ballots so far. She discovered four more ballots that had been shoved under the office door when SETCO opened after their lunch break.

“We just want everyone to vote,” Strawn said.

SETCO, she said, is collecting ballots because it believes the county’s official ballot drop-box–a mere two blocks away at the city’s transit center–isn’t secure. Strawn reiterated her group’s distrust of the elections office to do its job.

“We just don’t trust the official ballot boxes,” she said. “They aren’t guarded. There are homeless (people) around, and someone could put anything inside the box, like garbage.”

Strawn said the ballots are delivered to the county elections office in Visalia every day or two. Voters can also register Democrat or Republican at their office and everyone’s form is delivered said Strawn.

She also encouraged those who were delivering ballots to spread the word and gather more.

“Tell all of your friends to come by and hand in their ballots,” she said.

Catherine Doe contributed to this report.

24 thoughts on “Tulare County GOP may be harvesting ballots illegally

(Commenter ID is a unique per-article, per-person commenter identifier. If multiple names have the same Commenter ID, it is likely they are the same person. For more information, click here.)

    • IT IS the law in California ballot harvesting is legal thank the Demoncratic legislature lol Where’s Hunter?

      • BALLOT HARVESTING IS COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. THAT’S WHY THERE ARE OFFICIAL DROP BOXES!! THAT’S WHY THERE IS A TERM CALLED BALLOT HARVESTING. STOP ACTING LIKE AN ATTORNEY YOU ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE ARRESTED WITH YOUR IGNORANT LIES

  1. Can’t say I’m shocked by this, not even a little bit surprised. Sad to see something as important as your vote that there are those who don’t bother to protect it. Don’t entrust your completed ballot to any unauthorized drop box. The sanctioned drop box locations were enclosed with your official mail in ballot. If it isn’t listed there DO NOT utilize that drop box…..no matter who says it’s okay.

      • Its Democrats who invented ballot harvesting. Now, this digital mouthpiece for the Democrat party wants it’s readers to believe ballot harvesting is illegal. This is an obvious attempt to mislead the public.

  2. I am not surprised this is happening.. but I am so angry at the arrogance of the Republican Party. The individuals defending this practice of breaking the law are not patriots or even interested that every vote gets counted… they are criminals.it is so easy for them to lie and cheat as long as they win the election. It sickens me that this kind of immoral behavior is becoming the norm. So what do we tell the youth of today that will be voting in a few years? “Make America Great Again”?

  3. It is sad what has become of the Republican Party from the national level to the local level. They have gone rogue and have set a very bad example of who they are.. or should I say become in the eyes of the nation and world..

    • Ballot harvesting by the Demoncrats cost several people an office in 2018 .It’s legal in California thank the Demoncrats legislature lolo

  4. I think most sensible people know not to leave their ballots in the hand of Trumplickers. If the cult wants to fondle their own ballots and spread their Trump Mump covid cooties among themselves, that’s okay with me. I will continue to wear a mask.

  5. Wow, now you can clearly see how fake news works. The photo they use shows people willingly bringing their ballots to Headquarters. They are having to wait for it to open because THERE IS NO DROPBOX! This reporter continuously uses the terms gather & harvest when that is clearly not what is happening. Then describes the Democrats doing exactly the same thing but uses the words “helping voters”. Also mentions that the liberals changed the signature law to “authorized agent” but fails to mention it was because they went door to door “helping voters” fill out their ballots the offering to take them in for the voter. That is what is Harvesting Ballots!

    • HARVESTING BALLOTS ARE ILLEGALLY! YOU CAN ONLY DROP OFF SOMEONE’S BALLOT IF THEY PERSONALLY HAND IT TO YOU AND SAY YOU CAN DROP IT OFF! NO ONE ELSE! HOW STUPID ARE YOU!! I SEE YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT CRIMES WHEN ITS REPUBLICAN PARTY

    • “Fake news” is the gas coming out of Trump’s lying trumphole.
      “The virus is under control.”
      “It will magically go away in the Spring.”
      He tweets out crazy from qanon and then tries to pretend he doesn’t know who they are. He says he is against sex trafficking but he wishes well the girlfriend of his pal Jeffery Epstein.

      Trump is Fake President.

  6. Appalling…certainly hope all involved in organizing and manning these illegal drop boxes are charged with felonies, have their day in court, and receive appropriate consequences. Just a continuation of the lack of morals, character, and decency modeled by Donald J Trump and his administration. Sad, and very unamerican, indeed….

    • SAME thing as 2018 by the Demoncrats ballot harvesting is legal in California.Demoncrats are so holy lol Where’s Hunter?

      • People need to drop off ballot only at the locations enclosed with their ballot. Nothing holy about about that….but it is the right thing to do as it is the intelligent thing to do. Hunter isn’t running for a public office, he is just another often used deflection bait for Trumpsters to utilize.

        • I remember you often using Trumps children in your post during his run in 2016. Why would deflection bait apply now and not then? Just curious of your change on your stance.

          • Frankly Frank I don’t remember what in the heck I posted back in 2016 on anything……too long ago and too many senior moments. lol

  7. Hello Catherine Doe my name is Lacey Sanchez and I called and talked to you yesterday regarding the picture that was being used without my consent. You said you would remove it. It is still being shared and it is still on your website the ourvalleyvoice.com please again remove all content containing my photo.

  8. Maybe? They absolutely are! They openly admit it and have no shame! CA REPUBLICAN party only honors law and order that they ABIDE BY!

  9. The law says people who return ballots for others must print on the ballot their name, state their relationship to the voter and sign it. And, they must return the ballot within three days of receiving it.

    How can someone turning in like 100 ballots state! Their relationship to 100 strangers!

    State law defines a vote-by-mail ballot drop box as “a secure receptacle established by a county or city and county elections official.” The secretary of state has rules about the boxes’ design, how they should be labeled and how often ballots should be retrieved.

    The CA REPUBLICAN PARTY IS USING UNOFFICIAL DROP BOXES. COMPLETELY ILLEGAL!!

    • Just ask TJ Cox how he can turned in 100 ballots and defined how he was related to 100 different strangers. It is how he won a congressional seat. Sorry, 862 ballots to be exact! Democrats were doing it in 2016, now Republicans do it and the world is ending.

  10. California is one of 26 states that allows a voter to give their absentee ballot to another person they trust to deliver it for them. Election code 3017. It isn’t illegal to have someone deliver a bunch of ballots so long as they have been entrusted to them by the voters and they aren’t being compensated. Now claiming that a location is a drop box that isn’t an official drop box is illegal. But if i owned a business and had customers come to me that trust me and want me to deliver their ballots for them… there’s nothing illegal about that. They are entrusting me with their ballots so long as I don’t get paid its legal.

Use your voice

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *