No, Freedom Doesn’t Come In The Mail

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Do you know the same tactic used by Democrat candidates to oust several long-time Republican Congressmen in 2018 was also used successfully by a North Carolina Republican to win his congressional election that same year?

It’s called “ballot harvesting” or “ballot collecting.” In a nutshell, it allows campaigns to organize staff who then gather mail-in ballots from legitimate voters and submit them on behalf of those voters.

Sounds efficient, right?

It is. Both for the voter and for the campaign.

The voter avoids the long lines on election day. The campaign gets to target constituencies more likely to vote for their candidate. In effect, it cuts out the “O” in GOTV (“Get Out The Vote”) strategies by transforming it simply to a GTV (“Get The Vote”) effort.

Here’s the odd thing, though. Ballot harvesting (or collecting) is legal in some states (like California) and illegal in other states (like North Carolina).

The winning California Democrats went on to serve in Congress. The winning Republican’s election was invalidated and he opted against running in the subsequent election re-do. All used some form of ballot harvesting/collecting to gain their electoral victories.

The inequity of this treatment has caused quite a debate. While it may seem like a partisan debate, it’s not. As demonstrated by these two elections, both parties do it. It may just be that, at least in 2018, California Democrats are better at doing it than California Republicans and North Carolina Republicans were better at it than North Carolina Democrats.

As with so many things today, the debate even includes the very words used to describe the campaign strategy. In states where it’s illegal, it’s commonly referred to as “ballot harvesting.” Proponents of the strategy in legal states appear to prefer the term “ballot collecting,” going so far as saying the phrase “ballot harvesting” is derogatory.

Don’t let the semantics fool you. The two expressions mean precisely the same thing.

There’s an old adage that stipulates “words don’t matter; actions do.”

What matters most, however, isn’t what happens in California or in North Carolina. What matters most is what happens right here, in our state, in our region, in our community.

We’ve had the opportunity to experience several elections in the past few weeks. These include school elections, party primaries, and even a special congressional election. Some state-wide political leaders, out of concern for spreading coronavirus, sought to make these elections “mail-in only.”

Although the elections turned out to be more of a hybrid between mail-in voting and in-person voting, anecdotal evidence may suggest those concerned with mail-in ballots may be justified.

The first and perhaps largest SNAFU occurred with the school vote. This was an “all state” thing, but that didn’t mean we weren’t impacted. Indeed, much of the problem could initially be attributed to “first time jitters.” Our Boards of Elections (“BOE”s) had never processed a 100% mail-in balloting election before.

Lucky for us they didn’t have to handle the voting (the voting was done within each local school district). If the problems the BOEs experienced simply in mailing out the ballots had also occurred in the counting of the ballots, we might still be waiting for the results.

In case you didn’t hear, within our own school district, there were claims from people who never received a ballot. Additionally, it was discovered that our school district mail-in ballots were sent to voters who don’t live in our school district. This wasn’t just a handful; this was whole swaths of voters.

Then there were the general elections and the primaries. Again, we’ve heard stories from people who sent in absentee ballots a week or two before the election. The County BOE provided a website for them to verify their vote was processed. Yet, when they checked the website, they didn’t see their name. There were reports people called the BOE about this. It’s unknown what the response was.

We are aware of one person who received an absentee ballot but who didn’t submit it. That person confirmed that, even though she requested an absentee ballot and had received it, she could still vote in-person and not by absentee ballot.

Finally, we know of at least one case where the absentee ballot was mailed to the wrong address. After calling several different BOE offices, including the state office in Albany, this individual was finally directed to the correct person at the Monroe County BOE. When making the call, the woman at the Monroe County BOE picked up the phone and immediately said, “I’m tired. How can I help you?”

The BOE confirmed it had sent the absentee ballot to the wrong address, but said they could not send another one to the correct address. Instead, they suggested the person who inadvertently received the voter’s ballot overnight it to the voter, and then asked the voter to overnight it back to the BOE.

Imagine the problems that could arise in elections as a result of the widespread occurrence of these actions. It’s ripe for voter disenfranchisement, electoral irregularities, and outright election fraud.

Mail-in balloting should be available and very rare. It needs to be scrutinized for abuse. Such scrutiny is costly, but necessary. But we have a limited capacity for it. If too many people opt to vote by mail-in ballots, the system will break down.

It won’t come crashing down for all to see. It will develop leaks that ne’er-do-wells can quickly and easily exploit. And once they get the keys to elective office, it will be more difficult to win our freedom back.

Hmm, I guess there’s a reason we don’t think too highly of those who choose to live life by “mailing it in.”

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