McCrae Dowless’ alleged ballot harvesting on behalf of Mark Harris in last year’s 9th Congressional District race exposed the need for absentee ballot reform in North Carolina. A couple of bills in the North Carolina General Assembly are steps toward addressing that need, but both have problems.
S626, sponsored by senators Dan Bishop (R – Mecklenburg), Warren Daniel (R – Avery, Burke, Caldwell), and Ralph Hise (R – Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey) expands the function of multipartisan teams in the absentee voting process. Multipartisan teams are groups of people trained and authorized by county boards of elections to assist voters and their role in the absentee voting process should expand as a means of reducing the access ballot harvesters have to ballots.
However, that expansion in the bill also comes at the expense of cutting near relatives and legal guardians out of parts of the absentee ballot process. Under the bill near relatives and legal guardians would no longer legally be able to, among other things:
- Assist a voter in an assisted living facility in marking a ballot
- Deliver a voter’s absentee ballot to the board of elections
- Complete an absentee ballot request form on behalf of a voter
- Hand-deliver a ballot to a voter on election day who cannot vote in person due to sickness or disability (county board of elections would have to do that directly)
- Sign an absentee ballot request form on behalf of the voter
While the intent of the bill comes from a good place (protecting voters from ballot harvesting and manipulation) it cuts folks out of the process who have a verifiable close personal relationship with the voter and who (at least most of the time) are acting with the best interest of the voter in mind. This is fundamentally different from ballot harvesters, who treat voters and their ballots as a means towards helping a candidate or simply getting paid. Ballot harvesters, rather than relatives and guardians, are the people who need to be cut out of the process.
In the House, H683, sponsored by representatives Larry G. Pittman (R – Cabarrus, Rowan), Wayne Sasser (R – Cabarrus, Stanly) and Jerry Carter (R – Rockingham) seeks to protect vulnerable populations from ballot harvesting. However, it takes a different route than that of S626 by specifically bringing near relatives or legal guardians further into the process. It states that “a person shall not request or deliver a written request form” for a person in an assisted living facility “without first consulting that voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian.”
This bill offers potentially useful protection for people in assisted living facilities from manipulation by ballot harvesters. However, it does not address how county boards of elections would verify that a near relative or verifiable legal guardian was consulted, creating the same kind of enforcement difficulties that plague our current law against ballot harvesting.
While neither bill addresses the full range of reforms needed to protect voters from ballot harvesters, they represent important first steps in a much-needed discussion.