Election 2020

Newsom Capitalizes on Coronavirus to Overhaul California's Election System. GOP Says 'Not So Fast'

Newsom Capitalizes on Coronavirus to Overhaul California's Election System. GOP Says 'Not So Fast'
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool

On Sunday, the Republican National Committee (RNC), the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and the California Republican Party sued Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) for using the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for a “brazen power grab” over the state’s election system. While this seems merely political — Republicans suing a Democrat — the lawsuit makes a strong case.

Newsom’s executive order would enable fraud and abuse. Furthermore, it came at a time when the state was already in the process of lifting lockdowns and reopening the economy, suggesting that this move is political rather than a necessary response to the pandemic.

“In a direct usurpation of the legislature’s authority, Governor Newsom issued an executive order purporting to rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election. This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Governor’s Order is invalid and must be enjoined,” the lawsuit states.

“Moreover, in his haste, the Governor created a system that will violate eligible citizens’ right to vote. 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—he has created a recipe for disaster. No State that regularly conducts statewide all-mail elections automatically mails ballots to inactive voters because it invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting,” the lawsuit argues. “Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The lawsuit demands that a U.S. District Court declare Newsom’s order unconstitutional and issue an injunction prohibiting the governor from implementing his system to have Californians vote by mail.

Democrats use coronavirus to overhaul elections system

The mail-in voting battle comes after Democrats have capitalized on the coronavirus crisis to advance the vote-by-mail agenda. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi smuggled in vote-by-mail election overhauls into coronavirus relief bills in March and again in May, as Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the crisis was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has called the coronavirus an “opportunity” for “structural change” on voting. Leftist foundations have dedicated millions to push mail-in ballot schemes.

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“Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom’s executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Newsom’s illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote.”

“California’s election system is already burdened with serious issues,” argued California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson. “The disastrous Motor Voter program arbitrarily changed voter registration for thousands casting doubt on the integrity and accuracy of our voter rolls. Using this pandemic in a unilateral power grab to change our election laws with an executive order will further put the integrity of our elections into question. The California Republican Party will fight back at every step to ensure a secure election, as Californians rightfully expect and deserve.”

The legal argument

The U.S. Constitution clearly states that state legislatures — not governors — will determine election laws. While California law gives Newsom extraordinary powers in a crisis, it does not grant him the ability to make law. Newsom may get rid of roadblocks that slow government responsiveness and he may override “procedures,” but as the lawsuit states, “the entire election code is not a ‘procedure’ that functions as an administrative hurdle over which the state must ordinarily climb in order to act in the interest of public health.”

The executive order itself acknowledges that it conflicts with the state’s election law, specifically stating that the order will go into effect “notwithstanding any limitation on the distribution of vote-by-mail ballots in Elections Code Sections 1500 and 4000-4007, or any other provision of state law.”

Potential vote-by-mail abuses

The lawsuit does not argue that Californians should not be able to vote by mail. “To be sure, vote-by-mail can be a legitimate feature of a state’s election process, when coupled with adequate procedural safeguards to deter fraud,” the suit allows. However, it does cite many studies to warn that absentee balloting is vulnerable to abuse in several ways.

Absentee voters may be more susceptible to pressure or intimidation at home, in the workplace, in nursing homes, or at church, for example. Vote-by-mail systems also enable ballot harvesting, where third parties collect absentee ballots from voters to drop them off at polling places. In some cases, workers collecting ballots have entered into voters’ homes to help them fill out their ballots. In most cases, voter registrations are out of date, so ballots arrive at the wrong address and some ballots arrive addressed to deceased voters.

Indeed, mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic has created situations ripe for abuse. Clark County, Nev., is administering the state’s first all-mail primary. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that evidence of ballots “tossed in trash cans and littering apartment mailbox areas” emerged within the first week of voting.

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Similar problems reportedly took place in Paterson, New Jersey, in the May 12 election for Second Ward City Council. More than 800 mail-in ballots were set aside due to suspicion that they were gathered illegally. In one case, 366 ballots were picked up from the same mailbox.

“Democrats pushed these changes long before COVID-19 because they believe that the resulting free-for-all will help their electoral prospects. Unable to persuade legislatures to adopt these changes, Democrats have turned to the courts, arguing that COVID-19 means that their preferred changes are now mandated by the Constitution,” the suit alleges. “But COVID-19 does not warrant throwing out longstanding safeguards that protect the integrity of elections. In fact, it makes those safeguards more important.”

The suit quotes Florida State University law professor Michael Morley, who warned in a March 2020 paper that “even when voter registration records are accurate, voters may not be staying at their addresses of record. If stay-at-home orders remain in place, voters may be staying with family or friends for the duration of the quarantine. Thus, automatically mailing out millions of ballots to addresses where voters may not be located will lead to millions of unaccounted-for ballots, facilitates ballot theft, and can lead to inadvertent or intentional double voting.”

California is not ready for a transition to mail-in voting. Last year, Los Angeles County had to remove up to 1.5 million ineligible voters due to a court settlement in which the county admitted it had a registration rate of 112 percent. Los Angeles County is not alone in having more registered voters than adults living in the county, however. The Election Integrity Project California has reported that as of February 18, 2020, 13 California counties — which represent about 46 percent of the state’s population — have more registered voters than eligible citizens.

The damning timing of Newsom’s order

It gets worse, however. Newsom attempted to override state election law in a way that made California’s election system ripe for abuse — at a time when he had already started lifting lockdown restrictions!

Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency on March 4 and issued a stay-at-home order on March 19. By April 28, however, he had announced a four-phase plan for reopening the state.

On May 8, the state moved to Phase 2, and Newsom explained that Phase 3 “may not even be more than a month away.” Yet on the same day the governor highlighted the progress in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, he issued an executive order which relies on the current state of emergency to rewrite California’s election laws for an election that is six months away. After issuing that order, Newsom has continued to indicate that he will lift more of the lockdowns.

“This inconsistency, coupled with [the elections executive order]’s timing amid a nationwide push by the Democratic Party for the same measures, reveals that the Order is less about protecting the health of Californians and more about protecting the electoral prospects of the Governor’s political party,” the Republican Party lawsuit states.

This lawsuit makes a damning case against Gavin Newsom’s disgusting attempts to capitalize on the pandemic, and the court should issue the injunction.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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