Republicans take on ballot harvesting, drop boxes but legally using them in 2024 election cycle

Fighting Fire With Fire? Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers are looking to ban ballot drop boxes as Republicans in New Jersey seek to embrace them.

Published: March 25, 2024 10:51pm

As Alabama has banned ballot harvesting and Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are fighting ballot drop boxes, GOP campaign efforts are using those same tools where legal.

Democrats have long focused on mail-in and early voting while Republicans have warned of potential insecurities of those methods. Now the GOP is starting to embrace it this election cycle. However, the acceptance of mail-in voting as a tool isn’t preventing Republicans from looking to secure or ban certain aspects of it, such as ballot harvesting and ballot drop boxes.

Last Wednesday, Alabama enacted a law that bans ballot application "harvesting," which is the collection of absentee ballot applications by third parties. The law will take effect prior to the November presidential election.

“We wanted to make sure that we, again, clarified that law and make sure that it’s really the intent of the voter, and they want to utilize the absentee process, not necessarily because somebody is coming and knocking on their door harvesting these applications and these ballots,” Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen said.

He explained that “there was few prosecutions” of ballot harvesting because state law “was so vague and there was no penalties.”

“But we know it goes on,” Allen added. “We receive calls. We know it happens out there. There are instances where there are paid political operatives, paid ballot traffickers, or whatever you want to call them, that go and put influence on the absentee process, going out and gathering up these applications and trying to influence the absentee process.”

Alabama already requires that only the voter or their medical emergency designee return their mail-in ballot. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a state Senate committee last Tuesday approved a ban on ballot drop boxes, which ballot harvesters tend to use to drop off multiple ballots.

The Republican state senators who voted for the measure noted that ballot drop boxes are not secure and allow for election fraud.

While the Pennsylvania state legislature considers a bill on ballot drop boxes, a Republican member of the Allegheny County Council and Board of Elections sued the county and the county executive earlier this month to prevent the installation of ballot drop boxes prior to the commonwealth’s April primary election. The suit — now settled — argued that the county executive didn’t receive approval from the county Board of Elections, as state law requires.

In a consent order filed last Monday, the plaintiffs and defendants agreed that the board must approve the locations for the ballot drop boxes. The board unanimously approved the ballot drop boxes locations last Wednesday, after the board member who brought the suit was satisfied that proper procedure was followed and the drop boxes will be secure.

However, as Republican lawmakers elsewhere are looking to prohibit ballot harvesting and ballot drop boxes, political action committees and grassroots organizations are pushing to use those tools where they are legally available.

In New Jersey, a conservative political action committee is hoping to out-compete Democrats with ballot harvesting — or “ballot collecting” — and using ballot drop boxes.

Fix Jersey Now is a political action committee working to get more Republican candidates to win in New Jersey elections.

The PAC “has developed a BALLOT COLLECTION PLAN that can win elections by delivering legal ballots to targeted ballot boxes throughout the state,” according to its website.

“Our plan deploys a network of volunteers to set up ballot collection sites in local churches, gun clubs, American Legion and VFW Posts, and other sites where like-minded supporters can be recruited to cast a ballot before Election Day,” the PAC’s plan reads.

In New Jersey, state law only lets an authorized bearer drop off ballots for a maximum of three people.

The campaign mirrors the Republican National Committee’s “Bank Your Vote” initiative, which “will encourage, educate, and activate Republican voters on when, where, and how to lock in their votes as early as possible, through in-person early voting, absentee voting, and ballot harvesting where legal,” according to the RNC’s announcement last June.

Mail-in voting and early voting have historically been a weakness for the GOP, with Republican voters predominantly opting to vote in person on Election Day. 

While Democrats historically used such methods to help their candidates win elections, Republicans instead sounded the alarm that universal mail-in voting and ballot harvesting were ripe for voter fraud – at least until recently.

Former President Trump said last March that Republicans are “gonna have no choice" but to embrace absentee voting, early in-person voting and ballot harvesting in states where it is legal. Trump is officially opposed to ballot harvesting, and he contends the practice has become so much a part of modern elections that he would seek to abolish it if re-elected.

A total of 33 states have significant restrictions on ballot harvesting, according to an analysis by the Movement Advancement Project. Of them, five allow only the voter to return their mail-in ballot.

A total of 17 states and Washington, D.C., have little or no restrictions.

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