A recent study published by Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation cites vote harvesting as one of the preeminent threats to the integrity of U.S. elections. Currently, 27 states plus the District of Columbia allow third parties, including politically motivated interest groups and consultants, to collect absentee ballots from voters, and deliver them to elections officials. Absentee voting does not threaten democracy; however, the entry of coordinated, well funded political actors into the absentee ballot process creates opportunities rife for fraud and abuse.
According to the report,
“All states allow a voter to cast a ballot through an absentee ballot, often referred to as a mail-in ballot.Those ballots are usually mailed back to election officials by the voter, although voters can personally deliver their ballots to local election officials in every state. Nine states allow a member of the voter’s family to hand-deliver the absentee ballot; one state (Alabama) only allows the voter to return the ballot; and 13 states do not specify whether someone other than the voter can hand-deliver the ballot on the voter’s behalf.”
States that allow anyone other than the voter or an immediate family member to cast a voter’s ballot are jeopardizing the chain of custody, and thus, the integrity of that ballot. Once the ballot leaves the hands of the voter, there is no way to certify that the ballot contains the original intent of the voter; candidate selection can be changed by the harvester, notwithstanding the fact that the harvester could attempt to influence the voter’s selection outright.
Given the prominence of highly targeted campaign data in recent elections, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that unethical actors could collect absentee ballots in highly targeted areas of opposition, and illegally discard those ballots. Due to the unlikely possibility that a voter will check with election officials to confirm receipt of their ballot, this scenario would be very possible to conduct without detection.
Another issue highlighted in the study is that 6 states and the District of Columbia allow for a voter to request permanent absentee status. Once a voter requests to be on the list, they will receive an absentee ballot for every election. As 1 out of every 8 state voter registration records are shown to be inaccurate, this means that absentee ballots are often being sent to inaccurate addresses, or ineligible or deceased voters.
Obviously, voting rights of Americans should never be infringed. Ballot harvesters have one goal in mind: electing a certain candidate at all costs. While absentee voting allows disabled, elderly, or absent voters the opportunity to participate in the political process, the current system is rife with undue influence. States’ elections officials and legislators must work together to provide solutions to eliminate undue influence from the absentee ballot process and safeguard the chain of custody in the absentee ballot process. LDF recently published a study on the issues arising in the absentee and mail-ballot process.