Even the term for the process is contentious. Republicans uniformly call it “ballot harvesting,” implying that election results are planted and plucked from a field of voters. Democrats and voting rights advocates prefer the term “ballot collection,” insisting it’s a service for voters at risk of being shut out of the electoral process.
Nobody knows how often it happens, or how many votes are collected in this manner. There is no mechanism in California to tally ballots that are collected versus all other ballots. And, without such data, it’s impossible to tell how much of an impact the practice actually has on any election.
Southern California election officials, and others, say they haven’t seen any evidence of ballot tampering or fraud tied to ballot harvesting. The Orange County District Attorney, for example, says they haven’t received any complaints about potential abuse by ballot collectors. And no such case has been prosecuted in California.
But that hasn’t stopped GOP voters and officials from suggesting that ballot harvesting is a shady practice, and that two years ago Democrats used it to “steal” elections in Southern California. Even President Donald Trump condemned the practice last month, tweeting, “GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD.”
Still, the practice figures to become more common this year. It’s possible that in-person voting will be less popular because of the threat of coronavirus or shelter-in-place rules, and Democrats say the ability to collect ballots could help the elderly and immunocompromised participate in the process….
While opponents also blame ballot harvesting for delaying election results, Kelley said a rise in mail-in voting and a separate law that lets people mail their ballots on Election Day have extended the vote count and there is no evidence that ballot harvesting is a factor. In 2018, for example, Kelley said collectors dropped off some stacks of ballots shortly after ballots were mailed out, but that they didn’t see big volumes coming in that way on Election Day.
Rick Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine who specializes in election law, said he sees value to states having reasonable limits on ballot harvesting, such as Colorado’s cap of 10 ballots per collector.
“Not because collecting ballots itself in and of itself is a problem,” he said.
“But giving ballots to a third party can provide an opportunity for there to be tampering with the ballots,” he added. “And during a time period when people are so skeptical about the integrity of elections and so quick to yell ‘fraud,’ I think not having outside groups handle large numbers of ballots makes sense.”