Simone Gao: Shawn Steel was the chairman of the California Republican Party from 2001 to 2003. He is now a national committeeman from the state. He joins us now to look back at how the 2018 midterms played out for his party.
Simone Gao: Thank you for coming on with us, Shawn. The last time we spoke, it was right before the midterm election, and you were optimistic about Republican prospects. Now, as we are about to begin a new congressional session, there is no way to say the GOP did well. But there is still a big difference between what it looked like by the end of the election night and six weeks later. Tell me when you realized that all the late counts were going against the Republicans?
Shawn Steel: Democrats have reinvented voting. It used to be you go out to vote on election day, and this is where it’s true in most of America, but California’s different. But you used to go and vote, and about 2 o’clock in the morning on a close race you found out who won. Sadly, in California, you find out who the real winner is about two weeks after the election. It’s called a late count. The late count means that there’s lots of deals going on, lots of different ways to vote, lots of ballots coming in very, very late. And we have this new mechanism called ballot harvesting. That means professional people can go door-to-door, get ballots, and then turn them in themselves. And that causes a great deal of controversy. In North Carolina, a Republican is accused of ballot harvesting, and he may lose his seat. But the ballot harvesting in California, it’s a Democrat state, there’s not going to be any professional investigation, although there’s some private investigations. Whenever you give your ballot to a stranger, there’s nothing good that can come out of that.
Simone Gao: In one of your articles reflecting on the midterms, you said there was no need for voter fraud. Democrats know it’s easier to erode voter integrity laws than to stuff ballot boxes. Explain this to me, please.
Shawn Steel: Well, it means—the old idea of Chicago, which is one of the most corrupt cities in the world, you would have dead people voting regularly. Thousands of dead people would vote. It was a miracle. It was like a religious experience. The trouble is you had live people pretending to be a voter who was actually dead. So you’d have people showing up multiple times in different precincts to vote. That’s the old-fashioned fraud. Today it’s different. Now you have people that are registered to vote. They fill out a ballot at home, and then a stranger shows up and asks for their ballot. And so we don’t know what happens to that ballot. Once it’s in the hands of a stranger, he can do anything he wants with it. For example, the Republicans are accused of taking ballots from Democrats and not even having them vote, not turning them in. In California, it looks like several of these ballot harvesters were actually writing in the votes themselves, sealing the envelopes themselves, and then turning them in all at once on election day. Some precincts got over a thousand of these ballots on the same day of people that could have mailed them weeks earlier. It’s very suspicious and uncomfortable.
Simone Gao: Can you share with us a conversation with a candidate or someone in one of the defeated campaigns? What did they tell you about how they felt about the campaign and the results?
Shawn Steel: I talked to all of them: Congressman Rohrabacher, Congresswoman Mimi Walters, Young Kim, a candidate. They all lost by just a few percentage points. Nobody anticipated ballot harvesting. It’s a new animal, a new product in California. Nobody understood how big and powerful of a tool it is for getting the extra votes to win. Remember, on election night Dana Rohrabacher was 50-50, Young Kim was 14 points ahead in her district in Orange County, and Mimi Walters was ahead by 6 points. So we thought that Rohrabacher might be in trouble. Never dreamed that—Mimi Walters was popular, hard-working, and Young Kim, who’s a star, would ever lose. But day after day, a couple of weeks would go by and all these late ballots came in and changed the outcome. So it’s a new technique that Republicans have to learn and adapt. Most states you cannot do ballot harvesting. As a matter of fact, in Texas they changed the law. It’s illegal to ballot harvest in Texas. And other states that have prohibited, if you take some stranger’s ballot, you can go to jail. But in California, it’s the very opposite. It’s great for Democrats.