What is 'ballot harvesting' and how is it being used in California elections?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Would you trust a stranger with your ballot?
Ahead of the District 33 special election, a Long Beach resident says she has received multiple phone calls from different campaigns, offering to pick up her ballot.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Would you trust a complete stranger with your ballot? Long Beach resident, Kim Carroll, said she has received several calls from multiple campaign organizers, offering to pick up her ballot ahead of the special election for a District 33 Senate seat.

"That was a red flag for me," said Carroll. "I really didn't want anyone handling my ballot. I wanted to hand it in myself."

The practice of handing off an absentee ballot to a family member, a friend or a campaign organizer is commonly referred to as 'ballot harvesting' or 'ballot collecting.' Carroll wondered if this practice was legal.

"California has voted to make it a legal practice," confirmed Dr. Kevin Wallsten, Associate Professor of Political Science at California State University-Long Beach. "Prior to 2016, only a family member could collect your ballot and turn it in for you. After 2016, it is now possible for anybody to collect a ballot on your behalf and turn it in to the appropriate election official."

Ballot collecting is legal in 27 states plus Washington D.C. Those states include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Unlike other states, the practice of ballot collecting in California has very little regulations.

"The only requirement is someone ask you and get your permission and turn it in in your behalf. There is no limit on the number of ballots a person can collect. They can turn in 100, 200, 300 if they like," said Wallsten.

Other states regulate ballot collecting by requiring multiple signatures to validate an absentee ballot. There are also stricter rules across the country about how many absentee ballots can be turned in by an individual

Professor Wallsten said this practice is used to increase voter turnout, which most Americans can agree is a good thing. Some people, though, are skeptical.

"There are some people who of course are worried about the practice of ballot harvesting because they are worried that it might lead to intimidation of voters, that you might target voters, get their ballots and fill them in for them or even take a ballot and throw it in the garbage," said Wallsten.

As for Carroll, she prefers to cast her ballot the old-fashioned way.

"I work hard paying taxes to get to use that vote and I take it seriously. I didn't want to just hand it off to someone else to do it for me."