I have written two articles in recent weeks about H1169, “Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020.” The first article gave an overview of the bill and pointed out three major problems from the election integrity perspective:
- Reduction of the witness requirement from two to one
- Changes to how multipartisan assistance teams work could make them vulnerable to exploration by political operatives to harvest ballots
- The online absentee ballot request portal can be used by political operatives to go door-to-door with portable devices to submit absentee ballot requests, letting them know when and where absentee ballots will be in order to collect them
The second article noted that the problem with multipartisan assistance teams had been fixed before it passed the NC House, but that the other two problems remain.
I had previously noted why two witnesses are better than one for absentee ballot integrity:
Requiring two signatures is superior to requiring one since it prevents one-person ballot harvesting or vote-buying operations. In addition, it makes ballot harvesters sign as witnesses on more ballots. For example, a 10 person ballot harvesting crew trying to harvest 200 ballots would have to average 40 signatures per worker, something more likely to be noticed by election officials and reporters…
There has been virtually no Republican pushback against the absentee ballot witness reduction, a sign that it was a key point in the backroom dealing that made the bill possible. The only redeeming quality of that part of the bill is that it expires at the end of the year and the witness requirement will revert to two for all elections after that.
A fixable problem
That leaves the problem of ballot harvesters exploiting access to the online absentee ballot request portal required in Section 7.(a) of the bill.
To be clear, there is no evidence that the portal would be especially vulnerable to hacking or identity fraud (although what forms of online signatures will be accepted should be carefully examined by election officials).
My concern here is that political operatives will exploit the absentee ballot request portal by going to the homes of targeted individuals and get those individuals to file a request using the operatives’ devices. That would allow operatives to skirt a ban on people other than voters or their near relatives submitting absentee ballot requests.
While it would be illegal for political operatives to retain the data from absentee ballot requests on their devices, those operatives would only need to know two pieces of information in order to come back and harvest absentee ballots once they arrive in people’s homes: the address of the person who made the request and the date the request was made. That information would be retained on the contact lists all political operatives keep. That would go against the clear intent of the absentee ballot reform law passed almost unanimously last year, which made such information virtually impossible for political operatives to get.
The bill requires the SBE to be able to track the IP addresses of any device that accessed the absentee ballot request portal but did not specify what, if anything, would be done with that information. The Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee added a provision on June 2 requiring that the SBE investigate (section 7.(c)) if more than ten absentee ballot requests come from the same device, but that provision was watered down in a version of the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee on the morning of June 9.
No version of the bill explicitly bans people other than the voter or a near relative taking devices to people’s homes to file online absentee ballot requests.
While H1169 is being steamrolled through the Senate, there is still time for Senators to fix this flawed section of the bill.