Ballot Collection Background
In its simplest form, Third Party Return of Voted Ballots, a.k.a ballot collection, is the collection of absentee and mail-in ballots by another individual, not a member of the voter's household. The collector is then responsible to deliver the collected ballots to county election offices or voting centers before the close of voting on Election Day.
The original intent of the ballot collections was to provide a vehicle to permit those unable to vote in person or lacked confidence in the mail-in process to submit their vote. Balloting collection was signed into law by Jerry Brown in 2016 and first used during the 2018 Mid-term Election.
Ballot collection is one of several, on-going, recommendations made by the Future of California Elections (FoCE) that have been enacted into law to streamline and modernize the election process in California. FoCE claims to be a non-partisan, nonprofit organization.
Ballot Collection Concerns and Weaknesses
What has happened in many cases is the collectors represent a political party or group that has an agenda and the process is tainted. Ballot collection has been "credited" with the election of Democrat representatives in districts previously held by Republicans in both state and federal elections. This swing in votes earned ballot collection the nickname "Ballot Harvesting."
Integrity issues with the process:
Lack of Security: Documentation is not required about who is collecting ballots or whether voting is conducted in private without outside influence or intimidation. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the registered voter has completed the ballot themselves; there is only a signature on the outside of the ballot envelope certifying the validity of the ballot -- which is often certified by Election Office workers not necessarily graphologists.
No Chain of Custody: There is no accounting for whether collected ballots are delivered to the Election Office. It is easy for voter histories to be researched. Politically motivated collectors can discard ballots they deem to be adverse to their political objectives.
Geographic Corruption and Untimely Counting: Ballots can be dropped off in other counties other than where the voters are registered. Additionally, the counties receiving the ballots have an 8-day period to transfer the ballots to the appropriate county. This election procedure could result in ballot stuffing to effect the outcome of close elections.
Recommendations to Avoid Ballot Collection Voting Fraud
First, mail-in and absentee ballots have been around for decades. The intent of the original mail-in ballots match the stated intent of the recommendation made by the FoCE, service those with circumstances that prevent them from in-person voting. Mail-in ballots were never intended to the primary means of voting. With that said, here are some common sense solutions to prevent voting fraud:
- Confirm the persons voting actually reside in the precinct and they are voting from their current residence -- only voted once;
- Ballots cannot be collected and deposited at collection points outside the county of ballot origin;
- Individuals collecting ballots, who are not family members, must be certified, licensed and provided with sealed collection boxes registered to them;
- Receipts are given to voters with duplicates sent to election office in the sealed collection box by ballot collector -- election office inspects receipts and publishes serial numbers online;
- Station observers at Polling Places and Election Offices to ensure proper ballot handling -- observers to be trained and must sign-off on the election procedures they observed; and,
- Ballot signature certification is conducted by licensed professionals.