The Problem with Ballot Harvesting

While election integrity is a legitimate concern, many of the proposed remedies have their own set of issues...

Even if we ignore Trump's absurd stolen election accusations, there are legitimate reasons to be cautious about ballot harvesting.

For those who arrive late, ballot harvesting or ballot collecting occurs when one individual collects absentee/mail votes from a large number of voters — a process known as bundling – in preparation for submission via mail or drop box. It's common to establish the barrier by reference to number (you're not a collector unless you accept more than three or six ballots) or relationship (it's allowed to do it for family members or those with a certain impairment).

Restrictions on ballot collection are common around the states. The best known exception is California, which legalized ballot collecting in 2016, upon which Democrats are said to have employed the method quite effectively to increase their vote. Even California, as the Washington Post notes, “has since made it illegal to get paid per ballot collected and for employers to ask employees to bring their ballots into their workplace.”

That latter point illustrates one of the practice's first flaws: the person standing there asking you to hand up your ballot may be someone you have a hard time refusing because of a financial or other dependency. What if it's a union steward at work, or your community's political boss, or a patriarchal family member? What if they're pressuring you to make a decision sooner than you'd like? There is a requirement that you seal the envelope before handing it over, however this may be primarily an honor system. Who will file a complaint with the authorities or verify a complaint if you give in to inappropriate pressure?

Compare this to the concept of a secret ballot, which allows you to vote your conscience or not vote at all, regardless of what influential people in your life or community expect of you. It's just you and the ballot box, as they used to say.

Consider the risks of ballot manipulation next. Contrary to popular belief, the most likely misuse is not for the collector to swap the party option at the top of the ticket. The practice of "assisting" inexperienced voters by filling in choices for down-ballot contests that they would have left blank on their own is even more difficult to regulate.

More egregious abuses, such as collecting fake votes from people who are dead, never meant to vote, or never existed at all, are not unimaginable – politicians can think of anything – but they leave a trail that can be checked, unlike some of the more subtle abuses.

All of this won't stop conservative agitator Dinesh D'Souza's new film, 2000 Mules, from causing consternation in various areas. The film sensationally alleges massive fraudulent use of ballot harvesting in the 2020 election. I’ll leave the critique of that movie to others – the Associated Press and the Bulwark’s Charles Sykes have already started the job, among others, and more is to come. AP quotes an academic I much respect: “There’s no evidence a massive ballot harvesting scheme dumped a large amount of votes for one candidate into drop boxes, and if there were, it would likely be caught quickly, according to [Iowa law professor] Derek Muller.”

Underneath it all, election integrity is a serious problem with several complexities and trade-offs that should not be overlooked. What a pity it would be if it was only understood in terms of one defeated presidential candidate's personal interests.


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