Five Facts on Vote ‘Harvesting’ in the US

In much of the U.S., it is legal for voters to designate someone else to collect and return their ballots for them. Critics say the practice — which they call vote “harvesting” — opens the door to fraud and undermines the principle of a secret ballot, while supporters say vote collection makes it easier for more people to exercise their franchise. Here are five facts on vote “harvesting” in the U.S.

1.         Twenty-six states allow voters to designate someone else to return their ballot for them, though about half of those states limit the number of how many ballots any one individual can collect and return on behalf of voters.

In 2016, California expanded its ballot collection program to allow anyone to collect an absentee ballot, and to permit collectors to be paid for collecting ballots. However, their compensation cannot be calculated based on the number of ballots they collect.

2.         A 2019 Republican-authored Committee on House Administration Report suggested that ballot collection cost the GOP as many as seven U.S. House seats in California in 2018.

In five districts, Republicans led by as much as 6,200 votes on Election Night, and in two others, Democrats held narrow leads. Republicans say ballot collection increased Democratic vote totals by as much as 31,000 votes in each of the districts in the two weeks following the election, giving Democrats all seven seats.

3. Republican operatives faced criminal charges for illegal ballot collection in a 2018 U.S. House race in North Carolina.

McCrae Dowless was accused of paying workers to collect absentee ballots from voters, to fraudulently sign them, and then deliver them to election offices, in an effort to sway the election to the Republican nominee. Dowless and seven alleged co-conspirators faced charges. The state ordered a new election, which was won by a new GOP candidate. Ballot collection is not legal in North Carolina.

4.         Last year, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s ban on ballot collection.

Arizona banned the practice in 2016 except for family members and caregivers. In 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in July 2021 that the ban did not violate that law nor have a racially discriminatory purpose.

5.         H.R. 1, the House version of the “For the People Act,” would have expanded ballot collection to all states.

The House legislation, passed 220-210 in March 2021, would ensure that every voter could designate a third party to return “a voted and sealed absentee ballot to the post office, a ballot drop-off location, tribally designated building, or election office” as long as the third-party person or group “does not receive any form of compensation” for doing so. However, this proposal is not included in legislation currently under consideration in the Senate.


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