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California Republicans have agreed to rebrand their ballot collection boxes so they aren't confused with official drop boxes, like the one above.

Both sides back off, for the moment, in California fight over drop boxes

An uneasy truce in the ballot drop box war has lasted through the weekend in California.

The state Republican Party has removed some of the vote collection bins wrongly labeled "official" that it had placed in areas with hot congressional contests. Two of the state's top Democratic officials say they are taking a trust-but-verify approach to the move.

There's solid potential for the dispute to flare again, however, reigniting a national dispute about how aggressively party operatives may collect their allies' ballots. President Trump, normally the most prominent among critics who deride this so-called ballot harvesting, now asserts his party is doing exactly the right thing in California.

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League of Women Voters of California

Not all ballot drop boxes in California are officially, even if labeled that way.

The ironic California drop box controversy

There's a double irony in California's ballot drop box controversy, where the state Republican Party has placed private ballot collection boxes in several counties. Though the boxes are intended to make voting more convenient, the California secretary of state has issued a cease-and-desist order prohibiting them.

First, it's ironic that in several other states Republicans are the ones asking courts to limit ballot collection boxes. When voting rights groups (for instance in Ohio and Texas) or state officials (for instance in Pennsylvania) have attempted to increase the number of official ballot collection boxes, Republicans have said this isn't explicitly authorized by state law. The boxes aren't sufficiently secure, or they would lead to voter confusion, Republicans said.

Alleged security issues with official drop boxes have little basis in reality, but there are real concerns about the unofficial drop boxes in California. No state or local election officials are responsible for these unauthorized boxes. A voter who entrusts a mail-in ballot to a private organization leaves the ballot at the mercy of that organization.

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Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

The California GOP has set up its own drop boxes across the state, but Democrats say only official drop boxes, like the one pictured above, are legal.

Fight erupts in California over drop boxes and the limits of 'harvesting'

Partisan tensions, fears of voter suppression and allegations of cheating are roiling in the early stages of the almost entirely by-mail election in the nation's most populous state. At issue is how far the political parties can push California's rules permitting them to collect the envelopes.

Top Democratic officials are ordering the state Republican Party to remove about 50 drop boxes set up to collect ballots in reliably red parts of the state, maintaining they are illegal and could lead to voting fraud. Party officials say they will not comply with Monday's cease-and-desist order, asserting the boxes comply with a state law allowing campaigns to assist with ballot collection.

The dispute — over the limits of what President Trump and other critics deride as the practice of "ballot harvesting" — is the latest skirmish in the partisan war over voting rights and rules easements for an election upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

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