Another bad California export: "ballot harvesting"

  • 2 January 2018
  • NormanL
Another bad California export: "ballot harvesting"

There is a way an unscrupulous campaign operation could tip the electoral system in favor of a particular candidate or issue, and most voters would never know it happened. It's called "ballot harvesting." Never heard of it? You really need to, and this item from one of our favorite muck raking sites, Washington Babylon, gives us the scoop:

Since you’ve probably never heard of it, ballot harvesting is the practice of hand delivering another person’s mail-in or early ballot to a polling place. It is often performed by paid door-to-door canvassers or volunteers working for political candidates.

The practice is sometimes framed in terms of partisan politics, with Democrats being for it and Republicans against it. However, this is the wrong way to examine the issue. It’s a larger question of ethics, and ethics should never be viewed through the lens of Us vs. Them. Moreover, candidates and Political Action Committees (PACs) from both parties have utilized the practice. Lastly, trust me, Democrats have got a head start with this sleazy tactic, but if history is any guide, the always better-funded GOP will end up exploiting it much more efficiently and ruthlessly.

Ballot harvesting made headlines in 2015 when a practitioner working for a PAC named Citizens for a Better Arizona was caught on video stuffing hundreds of ballots into an unattended voting box. The following year, Senator John McCain was accused of utilizing the tactic to defeat Dr. Kelli Ward after one of his canvassers tweeted, “Going to chase down early ballots in a pencil skirt for @TeamMcCain!”

Arizona is one of 19 states that have now outlawed the practice. Nonetheless, the matter made its way to the Supreme Court in the fall of 2016 after the Ninth Circuit overturned Arizona’s ban. The high court stayed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, keeping the ban in place.

In the fall of 2016, a California Assembly bill was signed into law that allowed for unlimited ballot harvesting. What makes this especially worrisome is that half of Californians vote by mail, and that share is growing.

It’s easy to see — and entirely plausible — how this new law could further compromise electoral integrity. For example, canvassers claiming to work for one candidate could take voters’ ballots and complete them on behalf of another candidate.

Then there’s the possibility of voter coercion. In California, evangelical churches, unions and political organizations already routinely hold ballot parties, where participants are virtually certain to vote the desired way. What’s to stop these groups or individuals — like your boss — from going to the next level and coercing you to vote as they demand? Or to toss your ballot if you don’t choose properly?

We understand that campaigns will use whatever means possible to maximize their candidate's numbers on election day. But this "ballot harvesting" technique strikes us as ripe for abuse.

With the 2018 congressional elections about to get started, it's critical to be on the lookout for operations like this. Either major party could employ harvesting, be it to defend incumbents from primary challenges, or to tip the scales in tight general election contests. And while there is no concrete evidence a harvester has illegally tipped an election to one side or the other, it's easy to see how it could happen...particularly when the stakes are as high as they will be this coming November.