GOP groups sue to block California Gov. Gavin Newsom's mail-in ballot order

Newsom claimed he signed the executive order to protect voters from COVID-19.

May 25, 2020, 12:13 PM

Calling it a "brazen power grab" and voter-fraud "recipe for disaster," state and national Republican groups filed a federal lawsuit alleging the California governor's executive order to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state for the November 2020 election is illegal.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party filed the lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla accusing them of using the coronavirus pandemic as "a ploy" 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," reads the lawsuit filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California.

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On May 8, Newsom signed the executive order that he said was intended to protect registered voters from the virus by giving them the option of voting by mail if they considered it too risky to brave potentially crowded polling stations to cast their ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

PHOTO: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the media after at a voting center for the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday in Sacramento, Calif., March 3, 2020.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the media after at a voting center for the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday in Sacramento, Calif., March 3, 2020.
Gabriela Bhaskar/Reuters, FILE

"No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote," Newsom said at the time. "Mail-in ballots aren't a perfect solution for every person, and I look forward to our public health experts and the Secretary of State's and the Legislature's continued partnership to create safer in-person opportunities for Californians who aren't able to vote by mail."

The lawsuit was filed on the same day President Donald Trump, whose name will appear on the general election ballot, escalated his attack against mail-in voting, suggesting its supporters are attempting to use the pandemic to pull a "scam."

"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history," Trump said in a Twitter post.

Ronna McDaniel, chairperson of the Republican National Committee, echoed Trump's concerns that the move could foster widespread voter fraud, alleging in a statement that ballots mistakenly mailed to dead or inactive voters could be intercepted by Democrats to tilt the election in their favor.

"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," 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."

The 27-page lawsuit accuses Newsom of using the power of his pen to create 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," the lawsuit reads. "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. Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Newsom has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Padilla slammed the lawsuit in a series of Twitter posts, calling it "just another part of Trump's political smear campaign against voting by mail."

"Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue -- it's a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety," Padilla tweeted. "Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years."

The virus has infected more than 92,000 people in California and killed nearly 4,000 in California, according to the California Department of Public Health.

While the overall infection rates in the state and across the nation are trending down and more and more counties in California are slowly reopening the economy, the nation's top health officials warn that the virus has not yet been contained and that they are worried about a potential second wave of infections in the fall.

"I want to be very clear to the American people, we are preparing for that potential fall issue, both in PPE, which is protective devices, both in ventilator stockpiles, and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

In the lawsuit, the GOP groups didn't slam the door shut on voting 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 lawsuit reads. "But given the many risks ... in most states it is an alternative implemented carefully and slowly and only with such safeguards in place."

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