The man who became the face of the California Republican Party’s use of drop boxes to collect ballots for the November election says his life was turned upside down by the political controversy despite his insistence that he was just following orders.
In October, Jordan Tygh, 29, of Laguna Beach, was a regional field director for the state GOP, working in the 48th District to support Rep. Michelle Steel’s campaign, when he tweeted a photo of himself kneeling in front of a metal container labeled “Official ballot drop off box.” Though the location wasn’t identified in the photo, he said the goal was to get Republican voters to use the drop box and he urged voters to direct message him for directions.
That Tweet — and reports of similar boxes popping up at churches, gun shops and other locations throughout California — soon drew coverage from international media, with Tygh’s photo shown everywhere from CNN to “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
“The California GOP didn’t admit until the next day that it owned the boxes,” Tygh said. “I took that initial heat, so it really was pretty damaging to me and my reputation.”
The boxes also sparked a weeks-long battle between state authorities — who said the GOP-owned boxes were illegal since they didn’t meet legal standards of sanctioned ballot drop boxes — and the state GOP, which insisted the boxes were permitted under California’s 2016 “ballot harvesting” laws that allow voters to designate someone else to return their ballot for them.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office confirmed this week that no charges have been filed and that the case is no longer the subject of an active investigation. The AG’s office was satisfied after the GOP assured them they would stop using mislabeled, unstaffed drop boxes. The office also said it believes all ballots from the Nov. 3 election were counted.
“Despite public confusion caused by representations made by members of the California Republican Party and their initial deployment of unauthorized ballot collection boxes, we are confident that this election was safe and secure in California — as it was across the country,” the AG’s office said via email.
State GOP leaders said that while they agreed to stop labeling the collection boxes as “official,” they made no other concessions. They said other conditions sought by state authorities were already part of their plan, and they were critical of the investigation.
“They chose to create a media circus on something the courts deemed legal,” Hector Barajas, spokesman for the CAGOP, said Wednesday.
Tygh said he couldn’t speak about his role in the controversy at the time because he was bound by rules (common to both political parties) that require campaign staffers to defer media requests to official party spokespeople. But Tygh’s contract with the party ended after the election, and he spoke exclusively to the Register about his experience.
As one of more than 30 field directors for the state GOP, Tygh said he had nothing to do with coming up with the idea for the boxes or making signage for them. But when one arrived at a GOP headquarters in Orange County, Tygh said it was his job to help promote it, so he asked permission from a superior before tweeting the photo that disrupted his life.
There was never a moment when he questioned the legality or ethics of what they were doing, Tygh said, since he’d been told the process had been vetted by the GOP’s attorneys. He did say it was a mistake for someone to label the box as “official,” though he believes the adjective was meant to apply to the ballots and not the boxes. Still, he didn’t feel it was his place to question the process.
“That was probably a failure on my part,” he said. “But nevertheless, I was following protocol.”
In the days after that photo went viral, Tygh said investigators showed up at his door and media swarmed outside his apartment. He received messages from GOP critics telling him they hoped he died or was raped in prison. Even his mom, who was being screened for cancer at the time, got messages calling her a bad mother.
Tygh thought about quitting, but said he didn’t want to let his critics win.
Since the election, Tygh — who has a masters degree in liberal studies from USC and served three overseas deployments with the U.S. Coast Guard — says he hasn’t been able to get a job. Meanwhile, he said the GOP staffers who were behind the boxes still work for the state party, though he declined to say who they are or how many boxes they eventually deployed.
In October, the state GOP also declined to respond to requests for similar information from Becerra and then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla, insisting at the time that the boxes were part of the party’s confidential campaign strategy. Later that month, a Sacramento judge agreed, allowing Republicans to ignore state subpoenas on the matter.
“I saw this as a way to win some cheap political points,” Tygh said of Democratic leaders, some media outlets and left-leaning celebrities who questioned the GOP’s use of a ballot box with the word “official” and pushed the story.
Tygh insists the GOP wasn’t trying to trick voters and, instead, hoped the boxes would boost Republican turnout. At the time, turnout was a key question because even though California issued mail-in ballots to every registered voter as a pandemic-related health move, President Donald Trump was discouraging mail-in participation by telling voters that such ballots might be fraudulently miscounted.
Tygh said that while the GOP opposed California’s ballot collection laws, the party also believed ballot harvesting had helped the Democrats to big gains in 2018. Because of that, Tygh said, the party believed it had to take advantage of the existing legal process in order to be competitive.
He said he hopes the box controversy sparks a bigger conversation around ballot harvesting and ballot security.
But Democratic leaders have said they won’t let the incident be used as an excuse to add red tape that makes it harder for Californians to vote.
While Tygh said the incident left him “scarred,” he remains passionate about politics and hopes to work in the field again. He’s previously worked on campaigns for former Orange County Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and he interned in late Sen. John McCain’s Phoenix office.
Barajas said Tygh’s work for the GOP was important, and that Tygh is high on the list of people the party hopes to hire back as new opportunities come up.
The drop box controversy was one of two voter fraud claims the Orange County District Attorney investigated in the wake of the November election.
In the other incident, a GOP ballot harvesting operation raised concerns about voter confusion when a handmade sign that read “Vote Here” was spotted on Election Day outside the re-election campaign headquarters of Westminster Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho. Her attorney, Van Thai Tran, told the Register that while ballots were collected there but voting did not take place. He said he thought the “Vote Here” sign might have been planted by Ho’s political opponents, but acknowledged there was a second sign in Vietnamese outside of Ho’s headquarters that translated to “Ballot Room.”
The Orange County D.A. also turned that investigation over to the state Attorney General. When asked Wednesday about the progress of any investigation into the Westminster incident, or any other allegations of election fraud from this cycle, Becerra’s office said they couldn’t comment to protect the integrity of any potential or ongoing investigations.
Source: Orange County Register