Jason Chaffetz: Ballot harvesting -- California's model to steal 2020

The Heritage Foundation calls it the “tool of choice for vote thieves.” The convenient, innovative, and beloved mail-in ballot has been a source of contention due to its vulnerability to manipulation.

During the 2018 midterms, Democrats in California and a Republican consultant in North Carolina used a process called "ballot harvesting" to collect mail-in ballots for voters.

But there was a big difference between the two states, as I discuss in my new book, "Power Grab." In North Carolina, ballot harvesting is illegal. Congress refused to seat the winner of the 2018 midterm election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready and a special election was held this month to replace him. Though Republican Dan Bishop managed to win the heavily Republican district last week, the history of "cheating" by the previous candidate weighed heavily, making the race far closer than one might expect in a district with an R+8 partisan lean.


In California, by contrast, ballot harvesting was legalized by Democrats in the state legislature. They don't consider it cheating in that state. It was used to flip seven Republican seats to the Democratic column in 2018.

Democrats have long dismissed claims that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to manipulation, pointing to what they call a dearth of voter fraud convictions. Nonetheless, they could hardly ignore the North Carolina race in which a Republican campaign operative illegally collecting ballots allegedly destroyed as many as a thousand ballots supporting the Democratic candidate.


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The process of ballot harvesting should be illegal for very good reason. It violates the chain of custody, exposing the ballot to potential manipulation by campaign operatives or nonprofit political groups. They could harass voters to turn in ballots, “assist” them in filling them out, and potentially “lose” ballots that don’t support the candidate the ballot harvester is paid to help.

The indication that ballot harvesting made the difference in California can be found in the vote proportions. Studies of absentee voters have consistently shown they tend to reflect the population or lean slightly to the right. But when ballot harvesting was deployed in California, we saw late ballots break heavily for Democrats.

Election security is more than Russian hackers trying to change votes. We must secure the chain of custody of ballots, validate the identity of the voter, and maintain updated voter lists. Thus far, Democrats have shown no interest in any of that.

Take, for example, the race between former Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democrat T. J. Cox in California’s rural 21st district. When polls closed, Valadao led Cox by 6,000 votes — or 8 percent. That margin was wide enough for media outlets to call the race for Valadao.

However, late ballots delivered by third-party groups broke so heavily for Cox that he ultimately eked out an 843-vote victory. The results after ballot harvesting were very different from the polling before the race and since. In a July 2019 NRCC survey, Cox was polling at just 36 percent, while 52 percent said they would support "a potential Republican challenger." Valadao has since filed for a rematch.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that elsewhere in the state, Orange County voters on election night 2018 were calling the registrar’s office asking if it was legitimate for someone to come to their door and ask if they could take their ballot.

Who was coming to the door? According to a January 2019 Los Angeles Times story, illegal Dreamers were deeply engaged in the process — not just delivering ballots, but helping voters fill them out.

The Times reports on the experience of one Dreamer, Gabriela Cruz, who “found” a voter smoking a cigarette on a tattered old couch behind a group home hours before election day. He politely tried to wave her off until she "reminded him" he had a right that she as an immigrant without citizenship didn’t have. Half an hour later, she was helping the voter lookup candidates as he filled out his ballot by the light of her phone.

What are the implications of activists with an agenda “helping” voters look up candidates and fill out ballots? How many of those activists are willing to turn in a ballot that doesn’t help their cause? Should we be exposing people’s ballots to that kind of temptation?

Election security is more than Russian hackers trying to change votes. We must secure the chain of custody of ballots, validate the identity of the voter, and maintain updated voter lists. Thus far, Democrats have shown no interest in any of that.


Don't be fooled by cries for the Senate to pass so-called "election security" measures coming from the House. These measures are designed to enforce less secure voting processes on local communities, including the very vulnerable mail-in ballot. They are not about election security. They are about election manipulation in 2020.

If we want to get serious about securing our elections, state and local lawmakers and election officials must crackdown on the practice of ballot harvesting. Otherwise, Democrats will use it to manipulate the results of the 2020 elections.