To protect voters, prevent ballot harvesting

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Imagine an elderly woman living alone in a rural area of Arizona. Someone claiming to be from a local charity helping the elderly with errands knocks on her door and offers to take her car up to the nearest gas station to fill up the tank. Sure, she says—that will save her time and will be much more convenient than going herself.

So, she hands over her car keys. And the stranger drives off into the sunset with her car.

The stranger seemed well-intentioned. But hours later, she discovers this sinister stranger never made it to the gas station and instead left her car, minus its wheels, on the side of the road in another town. 

You likely can’t imagine allowing a stranger to drive off with something so valuable as your car keys, with no safeguard to ensure they bring the vehicle to its intended destination. But the truth is that fraudsters prey on the elderly in these kinds of despicable ways every day—and it’s no different when it comes to elections.  So why are strangers allowed to drive off with absentee ballots with no accountability or way to track them?

While the Left claims that laws against ballot harvesting suppress the votes of vulnerable groups, the reality is that ballot harvesting puts people at great risk of having their vote stolen.

Ballot harvesting puts voters at risk

Because of COVID-19, many states expanded vote-by-mail opportunities during the 2020 presidential election. Record numbers of voters took advantage of this opportunity—there were more than 65 million mail-in ballots in the presidential election alone. The influx stretched a system not set up to handle such an onslaught of mail-in ballots and unsurprisingly, bad actors took advantage of this chaos.

In many communities, it was unclear who should be collecting ballots and how they should be transported to counting centers, and it resulted in ballot drop boxes being set on fire and ballots turning up on the side of the road or being lost by the postal service.

Expanding voting by mail opened the door even wider to the ills of ballot harvesting.

Ballot harvesting generally involves an operative appearing at a voter’s home, soliciting the voter’s ballot, and returning ballots in bulk to the local election office… candidates and campaigns will pay ballot harvesters to solicit votes, and harvesters may target vulnerable voters to manipulate them to vote a certain way.

How States Can Secure Voting by Mail by Alli Flick

In many cases, voters hand their ballots to operatives—who at times can forge signatures and coerce voters into filling out their ballots a certain way—and there is no guarantee that these ballots will make it to polling centers safely to be processed and counted.

Sometimes, they don’t. And just as bad, sometimes the ballots voters were coerced to cast do make it to a counting center to be counted. Either way, voters are disenfranchised.

Elections in recent years have been rife with stories of fraud from ballot harvesting. Here are just a few examples from recent elections:

  • In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the FBI investigated cases of ballot harvesters being paid to collect ballots and subsequently bribing voters—often senior citizens—with “cigarettes, beer, or bags of cocaine” to vote a certain way. Others were charged with altering and tampering with mail-in ballots.
  • After a bungled 2018 North Carolina congressional race, a political operative testified that not only was she paid to collect absentee ballots, but that she also tampered with unfinished ballots, filling them out for Republican candidates. The issues related to this fraud were so prevalent that the results were thrown out and the district held a new election.
  • In a 2020 New Jersey city council race, discrepancies arose from hundreds of mail-in ballots collected by campaign operatives. A new election was ordered because election officials could not feasibly separate fraudulent ballots from legal ones.

Protecting the ballots of all voters

Proponents of ballot harvesting argue that vulnerable voters—especially those living in rural communities—will have greater difficulty in returning their ballots without allowing ballot harvesters to collect and return dozens of ballots. But how enfranchising is it to be coerced into voting a certain way, or to have your ballot lost or altered once it’s turned over to a political operative?

The solution is to protect voters from bad actors with commonsense policy solutions that make it easy to vote and hard to cheat: Limit the number of ballots a person can return and specify who can help voters fill out and return ballots as designated family members or a caretaker.

These reforms protect voters from ballot harvesting and ensuing fraud, but it also ensures that those who are homebound or unable to travel to a polling place have confidence that their vote is protected and that their ballot will get to where it needs to go. Those who need assistance turning in a ballot can still have a family member or designated caretaker return a ballot on their behalf. Limiting how many a person can return helps to prevent large-scale fraud.

And as it turns out, defining who can assist a voter with a ballot is popular among all parties. Polling shows that more than 60 percent of voters—including 58 percent of Democrats—support defining who can assist a voter with their absentee ballot as being a household member, relative, or caretaker of the voter they are assisting.

In addition, securing ballot drop boxes would go a long way to protecting voters who vote absentee. During the 2020 election, many communities saw little to no oversight in terms of drop box security. Drop boxes were left unlocked, and even fake drop boxes popped up, in an effort by bad actors to deceive voters. Leaving drop boxes unsecured is like leaving your keys on the hood of your car in a parking lot and hoping nothing bad happens.

Instead, most voters support placing drop boxes in government buildings where they’re under constant video surveillance, and livestreaming ballot counting centers.

If your car is running on empty, and your spouse or caregiver offers to drive up to the nearest gas station to fill up the tank, you hand your keys to them with great trust, knowing that your vehicle will end up where it needs to be.

A ballot is the key to participating in our own self-government—so it only makes sense that we keep close tabs on where ballots go and how they get there once they leave our own hands. Prohibiting ballot harvesting and securing vote-by-mail doesn’t add any undue burden for voters. Rather, it eliminates risks and hazards that could cost you your vote and provides the confidence of knowing your ballot will end up being counted—as it should.