San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee, said: “I think every citizen should vote — even if they’re voting for the other guy.” Photo by Chris Stone

In 2016, Kathleen Hazelton was San Bernardino County coordinator for Donald Trump’s debut White House campaign.

On Saturday, at the California Republican Party’s fall convention downtown, the retired nurse echoed the former president’s 2020 denunciation of mail ballots.

“I can’t imagine why, [with] something so precious as our vote, we can’t find one hour of the day to go to a poll,” Upland resident Hazelton, 70, said while questioning a panel on recent red-state election laws.

But Fred Whitaker (“respectfully”) and fellow panelist Harmeet Dhillon (“strongly”) disagreed. They strafed Hazelton, an Air Force veteran who in November lost a bid for the 25th District state Senate seat by 28 percentage points.

Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party, noted how his party had for decades promoted absentee voting and lamented how, in 2020, “there was presidential leadership saying: ‘Don’t trust the mail.'”

But with Republicans holding back until Election Day, he said, the Orange County GOP had to spend “thousands and thousands” of dollars to chase down members with messages of “Please vote.” He told a Manchester Grand Hyatt audience of 85 that 250,000 ballots were turned in Nov. 3 — delaying their count for a week or more “to our detriment.”

He’d later decry “the nonsense that all mail-in balloting is fraudulent or fake, or your ballot’s not going to count,” which lead to headlines alleging low GOP turnout. “Huh? Why is that? It’s because you didn’t mail in your ballot. Vote early. Not often.”

Said election attorney Dhillon, a former San Francisco GOP chair: “When our voters do not vote in time, the media reports that Republicans aren’t voting. That is self-suppression of our vote.”

The bulk of an 80-minute session — titled “Jim Crow 2.0 or Common Sense: The National Debate Over Election Integrity Laws” — was devoted to updating attendees on legal issues faced in California’s recall and congressional and state efforts on voting laws — with repeated quips on Democrats going “insane.”

In a brief appearance, California GOP general counsel Ashlee Titus said congressional Democrats’ sweeping voting-rights bill HR1 “would essentially nationalize the worst parts of California law and … invalidate (some state laws) with a huge broad stroke.”

But Whitaker imagined “a reverse theory.” If the GOP flips the House and Senate and takes the presidency in 2024, “we could produce our own form of HR1” and require Indiana-style voter-ID laws throughout the nation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would argue that our elections have often already been federalized in many ways,” he said. “I would actually be in favor of having federal voter ID, a federal ban on ballot harvesting in federal elections. … That’s how we could really clean up things in blue states.” 

Asked why Trump and a Republican Congress couldn’t do this in 2017, he said it was because the GOP for strategic reasons focused on tax reform and Obamacare repeal.

“I think election integrity is probably the one that we should choose” next time as a prime goal, he said. 

Supreme Court rulings on election laws were summarized, including recent conservative opinions backing states as “laboratories of democracy” under the 10th amendment.

Moderator Garrett Fahy of the Republican National Lawyers Association did the honors, injecting jokes into his rundown.

He dealt with the Georgia rule barring people from giving food or water to people in line to vote: “But what do Democrats do? Democrats find people in line and they basically bribe them to vote by giving them water.”

Even worse: He claimed that in South Dakota Republican John Thune’s first U.S. Senate race in 2004, Democrats went to Indian reservations and said: “If you vote this way, we will give you cigarettes. … So the idea that they’re not going to give people water in line? Please.” 

He said legal challenges would eventually land Georgia’s law before the Supreme Court.

“My prediction … is those restrictions are probably going to be upheld because nothing they do is facially discriminatory — meaning nothing in the text of the law can be read to say: ‘This is intended to discriminate or disenfranchise against certain peoples,'” Fahy said.

Fahy responded to a question from Alexander C. Eisner, a Southern California lawyer who bemoaned “chasing our tail with the conspiracy theories” about rigged elections.

“We’re doing our own voter suppression,” Eisner said. “We saw it in the Georgia Senate race, and a lot of reasons we lost the [Gavin Newsom] recall was Republicans not voting due to mistrust of the ballots.”

Moderator Fahy said “very good people” surprisingly bought into “my vote doesn’t count in California,” and thus sat out the election — as some did in the Georgia Senate races. “In any sport, if you don’t go on the field, you will not win.”

He said he heard from someone on Facebook urging supervisors in every county to ask for Cyber Ninja audits, like the recently completed one in Arizona’s Maricopa County. He later added: “So what do we learn from this [Maricopa County audit]? Well, other states … are going to be a lot less quick to do these audits because you don’t want egg on your face.”

Rarely uttering the name of the 45th president, the panelists still evoked Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud, saying recent elections were rife with “shenanigans” that stoked voter mistrust.

While final results were right, Dhillon said, “the irregularities [with some voters getting multiple ballots] were such that they undermine confidence in the outcome of our elections. They are violations of the National Voter Registration Act.” 

Fahy flatly declared that Trump lost Arizona because “he pissed off the [John] McCain family and wouldn’t apologize to Cindy McCain, even though the McCain staff desperately begged him to.” 

Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee, correctly said that San Francisco passed a law allowing nonlegal aliens to vote in school board elections if they are parents or guardians of students. (Such voting is rare, though, with only 56 registered to vote in 2018 by one account.)

But she also told the audience, incorrectly, that Portland, Maine, allows non-U.S. citizens to vote in City Council elections, saying: “That’s the bigger issue that requires federal legislation.”

In fact, Portland never enacted such a law. The proposal was dropped in 2018.

Dhillon also cited the Torrance theft of 300 recall ballots, drugs and a gun, likening this to a “Warren Zevon song.”

(The Daily Breeze of Torrance reported: “It did not appear the ballots had been tampered with, and they were believed to have been stolen prior to getting sent to their intended recipients…. There were other pieces of mail also found with the ballots.)

“Videos show people breaking into mailboxes and stealing mail,” she also said. “I say stealing mail. Some people say stealing ballots. Living in San Francisco, the theft of mail during COVID is virtually a certainty if you live in a multi-unit building.”

But Dhillon said to laughter: “Guess what? Democrats don’t cheat in San Francisco. They don’t need to. They have like 90% (Democratic registration).” (Actually, Democrats make up 63% of voters citywide. Republicans are just under 7%).

“This has been a good dress rehearsal for the 2022 election to identify these legal issues,” she said.

Panelists debunked other fears.

One man cited “popular conservative outlets” that urge paper ballots with only humans counting them. “No technology. Is that a good idea or bad?”   

“A very bad idea, frankly,” Whitaker said, “because then you’d never get your election results for two to three months. … We’ve been counting ballots through machines for 65 years.”

Anther canard: that postal workers discard GOP ballots by spotting telltale signs of voter intent via holes in the envelope.

Fahy explained the holes marked the signature line for the benefit of the visually impaired. And every county had different ballot orders.

Dhillon said she got into an argument with a One America News Network host on the ballot-hole issue.

“He wanted me to buy into the fact that it was a grand conspiracy as opposed to dumb, negligent or otherwise what the government does every day in California,” she said. “And you also have to believe that postal workers are all in on some giant conspiracy to screw Republican voters and discard those ballots en masse. It’s a federal crime.”

With people suffering cabin fever, she said, voters are getting their news from social media, which she called slanted and leads to less voting.

“I think every citizen should vote — even if they’re voting for the other guy…. I don’t want Democrats to think that [if] it’s a red county — it’s rigged against them,” she said. “That doesn’t improve our democracy and our country.”

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