In recent elections, more Americans are casting their ballots earlier, often by mail. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states loosened their voting laws to make it easier to vote by mail, including by allowing voters to designate someone else to drop off a ballot for them. Many states allowed this practice for the elderly or infirmed, but there’s growing concern that new laws open the door to ‘ballot harvesting’, a controversial practice where political operatives collect mail-in ballots to submit on the behalf of voters.
1. Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia explicitly allow individuals chosen by the voter to submit their ballot.
An additional eleven states allow only someone close to the voter (e.g., a family member, a member of the same household, or a caregiver) to submit their ballot. Thirteen states do not have explicit laws allowing or banning submitting a ballot on someone else’s behalf. Alabama is the only state to specify that only a voter may submit their own ballot.
2. States impose various limits to attempt to prevent ballot harvesting.
Laws in some states prevent political operatives and other people directly involved in campaigns from submitting other voters’ ballots, while other states put relatively restrictive caps on the number of ballots one person can submit. In Florida, for instance, an individual can only submit a maximum of two ballots from someone other than themselves or a family member per election.
3. Absentee ballot fraud has happened before.
In 2016 and 2018, multiple individuals worked to run a ballot harvesting scheme that potentially affected the outcome of a North Carolina House of Representatives race decided by less than 1000 votes. Numerous voters alleged that strangers came directly to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, even if their ballots were not completed or sealed to prevent tampering. The resulting scandal led the state’s Board of Elections to call for a redo of the election
4. Multiple states allow individuals to submit numerous ballots that are not their own.
In Colorado, any designated individual can submit up to 10 voters’ ballots, regardless of whether they’re related. In California, Illinois, Kansas, and a few other states, there is no explicit limit to how many ballots an individual can submit as long as they are authorized to do so by the voters.
5. State election systems have designed multiple ways to prevent fraud.
Although the risk of fraud is infinitesimal, states nonetheless have a number of guardrails to prevent election fraud cases. For instance, all 50 states require a mail-in ballot to have a valid signature that is in line with the signature in their voter registration files. Some states also require signatures from a notary or witness, or for voters to send in a copy of a government-issued ID with their ballot. States also work with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure ballots traveling through the mail are flagged for irregularities. A majority of states participate in the Electronic Registration Information System (ERIC), which allows state election boards to ensure their voter registration systems are accurate and efficient.