As Americans continue to await the 2020 presidential election results, actor James Woods is raising concern. In a tweet shared Tuesday night after polls closed, which was later flagged by Twitter as possibly being "misleading about an election or other civic process," the actor cautioned that "mail-in 'ballot harvesting' is the greatest threat to our democracy since the Civil War." Amid the 2020 election, there have been numerous warnings of threats to the credibility of the vote. Most of these warnings have been about mail-in ballots, but what exactly is ballot harvesting and what are the facts behind it?
According to The Washington Post, ballot harvesting is a practice in which "a voter fills out an absentee ballot, seals it in an envelope and does all the required security checks, like signing the back of the envelope so election experts can verify who voted." That ballot can then be passed off to a third party, who delivers the ballot at either a mail center or ballot drop-off location. CBS News explains that in states where it is legal, "volunteers or campaign workers can go directly to the homes of voters, collect the completed ballots, and drop them off en masse at polling places or election offices." The practice is routinely utilized by political operatives on both sides of the aisle and is seen to ensure that voters return their absentee ballots.
However, the practice has led to some concern regarding the potential for fraud, with President Donald Trump, during the Republican National Convention in August, recounting the alleged story of Republican operative McCrae Dowless, who was indicted for mishandling absentee ballots. The potential for fraud, some believe, stems from the possibility that the third party collecting the ballot could tamper with or discard the ballots collected, with some states having little to no restrictions regarding who can collect ballots.
In an election that expected to see an influx of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, some states have advocated for more parameters surrounding the process. Colorado and other states have limited the number of ballots a single person can collect and return. Some states, such as Arizona, only allow a family member, household member, or caregiver to collect and deliver a ballot. In California – where the voting handbook states that "the designated person cannot interfere with the ballot's return to the elections official" – the California GOP has been reaching out to voters and candidates alike to spread more knowledge about the practice, with a senior California Republican official telling CBS News "it's talking to voters about the issue, letting them know that it's not only legal, but it's common practice, and in a lot of cases in a lot of tight races, it will make a difference."
Although there is concern regarding the potential for fraud, it has been noted that it would be difficult for a person to tamper with a ballot as legal ballot collection requires the ballot to be filled out and sealed before it can be collected.