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Vote “harvesting” is a threat to democracy

Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order requiring that all voting in the Golden State be conducted this November by mail-in ballots, in order to promote social distancing.

This is a laudable goal in that it protects the mainly elderly polling workers from potential contamination and does away with voters standing in line to cast their ballots on election day. However, it is a course fraught with threats to the integrity of California’s elections.

The threat comes from the state law that allows for “ballot harvesting.” This is a policy of allowing anyone, whether familiar to the voter or not, to pick up the ballot of a voter who hasn’t dropped it off at a polling place, or mailed it—and take it to Registrar of Voters office.

On its face this doesn’t seem overly problematic. However, in practice it has been used by electioneering groups to “get out the vote.” So, for instance, a volunteer shows up at an elderly person’s residence and asks, “Have you sent in your ballot yet?” The volunteer offers to transport the ballot for the voter. In some documented cases, volunteers have said something to the effect, “Hi, I’m here to collect ballots from Democratic voters.” 

If the voter hasn’t yet sealed the ballot, there is the very real temptation the volunteer might be able to peer at the ballot inside, and if there are contests where no selection has been made, to “help” the voter by marking the ballot. 

If the volunteer sees that the ballot has been fully marked, but that the selections are “wrong,” there is an equal temptation that the ballot find its way to the trash instead of the Registrar.

It used to be that state law mandated that ballots were not counted unless they were received by the end of the voting day. State law has been changed to allow ballots to trickle in for several days after the polls have “closed.”  This led to the interesting, and suspicious instance of several elections being called for one candidate at the end of election day two years ago, and then completely flipping after ballots trickled in for several days.

Not being one to criticize without offering a solution, I propose a simple reform that would go a long way to reassure voters that their wishes are actually being carried out. Just as the state hires temporary polling workers, it should hire temporary workers to collect ballots from shut-ins or people who simply haven’t voted yet. The temporary workers would be trained to do nothing but pick up ballots. They would be trained not to tamper with them other than sealing the envelope if it isn’t sealed.

To help maintain social distancing, such workers would not enter a voter’s home but would only inquire if the resident had a ballot to be picked up and taken to the Registrar. 

Doing this would remove the temptation for campaign workers to alter or “lose” ballots to benefit a particular side. It would help people who have trouble getting to the polls or the mailbox to exercise their franchise. It would help ensure an accurate count of the votes and not leave the bad taste in the mouth that the election of 2018 left.

Ballot harvesting as it exists today is an odious practice nearly as obnoxious as voting deceased people or allowing non-citizens to vote. It should be stopped if California isn’t to add to the chaos that is expected in this November’s presidential election.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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