But the North Carolina story makes clear that it behooves states to do more to promote the security of absentee voting by mail. For starters, reform advocates must recognize that the convenience of absentee voting comes with a cost. By contrast, in-person voting, whether on Election Day or beforehand, has none of the risks that the unfolding scandal in North Carolina has exposed. (Additionally, though unconnected to the problems of ballot harvesting, in-person voting also has much lower rates of lost votes or invalid ballots than does mail-in voting.)
Meanwhile, efforts to impose strict voter identification requirements ostensibly to secure voting against the hypothetical and seldom realized possibilities of in-person “voter fraud” do nothing to reduce the very real – and frequently realized – risks of absentee voting fraud, and if anything serve to misdirect attention away from where it is needed. Instead, measures necessary to promote the integrity of absentee voting include, among others, prohibitions on ballot harvesting, enforcement of these prohibitions through monitoring of the ballot return process, public education about the proper way to return a voted absentee ballot, and absentee ballot tracking tools for voters.
Indeed, absent public awareness of the hazards of ballot harvesting, the first form of ballot harvesting fraud – when operatives collect a batch of absentee ballots only to discard them – can be especially difficult to detect and prevent. So it also behooves each voter both to know that delivering a voted ballot to any intermediary is fraught with risk (and may be illegal, depending on the state), as well as to take advantage of whatever mechanisms election officials make available to track the status of an absentee ballot to make sure that the voter’s voted ballot has reached the election officials. But after witnessing what has happened this past election in Bladen County, no state should hesitate to make absentee ballot harvesting illegal, and to take steps to increase awareness and enforcement of this prohibition.