Outgoing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan suggested Thursday that the stream of post-Election Day Republican losses in California was suspect at best, piling on to growing claims from the right that the way the state counts ballots is somehow improper.
“It defies logic to me,” Ryan said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporter Paul Kane. “We had a lot of wins that night, and three weeks later we lost basically every contested California race. This election system they have, I can’t begin to understand what ballot harvesting is.”
Ryan stopped short of accusing the state of any wrongdoing but called the system there “bizarre.”
“I just think it’s weird,” he said when pressed by Kane at a Washington Post Live event.
Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, rebuked Ryan in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
California has been roundly criticized by Republicans for taking longer than other states to finish counting its ballots. After election night, millions of ballots that had been mailed in still needed to be hand counted to determine their legitimacy.
Since those votes were counted, Democrats flipped six seats and appear on their way to taking a seventh. Rep. Jeff Denham, one of the Republicans who lost, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this week that California needed to revisit its election laws because it’s “statistically impossible” that all six seats that Republicans were winning on election night flipped weeks later once provisional ballots were counted.
In California, most of the outstanding ballots in question were ones sent by mail and received on or after Election Day. But there were also many “provisional” ballots, which are submitted when voters show up at the wrong polling place or their name isn’t on the rolls but they are allowed to still fill out a ballot to be counted later. California also allows for same-day registration, which means a lot of back-end verification that takes time.
“The way the absentee ballot program used to work and works now, it just seems pretty loosey-goose,” Ryan said Thursday. “Point being, when you have candidates that win the absentee ballot vote, win the day of the vote and then lose three weeks later because of provisionals, that’s really bizarre. And so I just think that’s a very, very strange outcome.
“When you win the absentee ballots and you win the in-person vote, where I come from, you win the election,” Ryan continued. “If you then — and you’re up six points or something like that, it’s really bizarre. So my only point is, I’m not saying there’s anything nefarious about it, because I just don’t know, but we believed we were up about six seats in California the night of the election, now I think we lost just about every single one of those.”
Ryan’s mention of “ballot harvesting” echoed complaints from other Republicans, including Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker. The term describes when a voter hands over a completed ballot to a third party to be cast for them. This was the first year the practice was legal in California.
In an election postmortem email to supporters, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Whitaker wrote: “The number of election day vote-by-mail drop-offs was unprecedented — over 250,000. This is a direct result of ballot harvesting. That directly caused the switch from being ahead on election night to losing two weeks later. … We have to develop a response to this new law that allows us to remain competitive while recognizing the realities of Republican voter attitudes towards handing over their ballot.”
Ryan said he wouldn’t go so far as to ask the state attorney general to review the results but suggested that The Washington Post should write a story about it.