The need to reform our absentee ballot process to protect the integrity of our votes was brought home by the alleged actions of Leslie McCrae Dowless, who is accused of harvesting hundreds of ballots while working on behalf of Republican Mark Harris’ 9th district congressional campaign.
Over the past several weeks, I have noted several responses to that manifest need, including underwhelming reform proposals from State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach, a pair of bills that partially (at best) address absentee ballot reform, and a supposed reform that would likely do nothing but waste taxpayer money.
We can now add H944, sponsored by Cynthia Ball (D – Wake), David R. Lewis (R – Harnett), Harry Warren (R – Rowan), and Allison A. Dahle (D – Wake), to the list of bills that partially address absentee ballot fraud.
The bill goes after ballot harvesting in three ways. First, it would authorize $345,564 per year for two years to hire three additional elections and compliance investigators and two additional data analysts for the 2020 election. Having additional personnel dedicated to investigating election fraud would help address one of the problems we have with enforcing our current laws: not enough people on the ground to do the extensive legwork that is sometimes required:
One difficulty with investigating allegations of ballot harvesting is that there is not an obvious paper trail for investigators to follow. There can be signals that ballot harvesting may be taking place… However, investigators must go to individual voters to ask them if someone other than a near relative took possession of their ballot.
The bill would also require every county to keep a record of the people and (when applicable) organizations that submit absentee ballot requests. Collecting and submitting large numbers of absentee ballot requests is an important step in absentee ballot fraud because it provides ballot harvesters with an early list of people whom they know will have absentee ballots in their homes and establishes a relationship with those voters that can later be exploited to gather their ballots. A review of Bladen County’s absentee ballot request submission log revealed that Dowless had submitted over 500 such requests, providing a clue about the extent of his alleged fraud. Requiring all counties to keep such records would give officials an indication of possible ballot harvesting going on in their counties.
Finally, the bill would end bounty payments for absentee ballot requests. Dowless allegedly paid several workers $5 per absentee ballot request they turn in. Of course, campaigns could get around that provision by paying workers or compensating “volunteers” at a flat rate with the understanding that future work depends on how extensively they gather absentee ballot requests. It would be better to prohibit anyone paid or compensated by a campaign, political party, or political action committee from submitting absentee ballot requests. Once local boards of election are required to maintain lists of who submits absentee ballot requests, it would be relatively easy for investigators to cross-check those lists with records maintained by the NC State Board of Elections of people paid or compensated by parties, campaigns, or political action committees.
While H944 does not go nearly far enough to establish absentee ballot integrity, it is another step in the right direction.