Civic

Beware of election ‘ballot harvesters’

Hendersonville – Absentee ballots can be requested up to Oct. 27 at 5 pm, a week ahead of the Nov. 3 general election, but people are urged to request and send back those ballots extra early to better ensure they are counted.

The State Board of Elections states it “strongly encourages voters to request a ballot as soon as possible, to avoid problems due to postal delays and to allow for time to correct any issues with your request.”

Many more voters than usual are expected to cast ballots in advance and fill out absentee ballots remotely for note only convenience but to avoid nearing others and contacting voting machines.

Some are apt to tough it out in voting in person with social distancing, trusting local election workers far more than the U.S. Postal Service for integrity and accuracy. Many others say they will vote with mail-in ballots, but deliver them in person to an elections dropbox.

Further, they will avoid letting a “vote harvester” collect their ballots with the promise of taking it to the elections board or a post office. Vote harvesting is now legal in some states, but not in North Carolina.

“One-stop early voting” is Oct. 15-31, enabling people to register to vote and then promptly to vote. Curbside voting is available for those disabled.

Voters will receive single-use pens and cotton swabs to cast ballots. Voters are urged to wear masks in voting sites. State Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said voters are not to be turned away for lacking a mask, and that some masks are to be available at sites. She directed poll workers to wear personal protective equipment. 

‘Ballot Harvesting’

“Ballot harvesting” though illegal in the state might go on behind the scenes. It happens when a person collects ballots of others, typically saying they will deliver them to spare the others the trouble to do so. Rather than deliver them en masse, the shrewd harvester might drop off one or two at a time to avoid detection.

A major loophole in the system is that a witness is required for an absentee voter, and a harvester could witness many voters one at a time and influence how they vote.

Further, the harvester who collects an absentee ballot could dispose of ballots that he/she does not want counted, and deliver only those voting for the preferred candidate.

The harvester can chat with the voter, to figure out who he/she voted for and whether to trash or deliver the ballot. Or, the harvester can collect the filled-out ballots before they are put into a sealed envelope, and thereby see who is voted for.

Ballot harvesters can steer who to vote for, unduly influencing others’ electoral decisions. This is most common if the harvester is a close friend or relative to the voter. But in other cases, the harvester may be a mere acquaintance. The harvester could be a worker in a group residential setting.

To gain influence, the harvester might ask an elderly or new voter simply if they have any questions about the ballot or election. The voter might ask which candidates are progressive or conservative. The harvester might answer sincerely, or lie to trick the voter.

Vote influencing can even happen at voting precincts. The Tribune witnessed a young man accompany an elderly woman than another one several minutes later into a voting cubicle and speak to them as if instructing. This was in the Henderson County elections office, in early voting in a recent election. Afterward, he hovered outside the elections office — as if looking for more elderly people to steer. A voter should ask a poll worker for any assistance.

Absentee Ballot Tips

Any voter registered in this state can request a mail-in, absentee ballot, without having to give a reason. Only the voter, a near relative or legal guardian, or member of a “multi-partisan assistance team” may request a ballot for that voter.

The request can be made by Oct. 27 via an online “portal,” or by filling a printed request form then return it to one’s county Board of Elections office in person or by email, fax, mail or courier (DHL, FedEx, UPS). The absentee form is mailed to the applicant, taking an estimated week to ten days to arrive.

The voter should fill out the absentee ballot in the presence of a witness, have the witness also sign it, seal the ballot in the return envelope, and sign on the outside of the envelope.

“A witness should not observe so closely that they are able to see what votes the voter marked,” but simply verify the voter is filling out the ballot, state elections info notes. The witness must complete and sign the witness certification section, and the “voter assistant certification” if giving an elderly or ill person “assistance marking or mailing the ballot.”

Only the voter or the voter’s near relative or legal guardian — not a ballot harvester — may “possess the absentee ballot, to return it to the board of elections.” 

The absentee ballot can be postmarked by Election Day but earlier mailing is urged. It can be inserted into the county board of elections office dropbox by Nov. 3 at 5 pm, or dropped off to a voting site during voting hours.

Two local county election boards offices to drop off absentee ballots are 77 McDowell St. in Asheville, and 75 E. Central St. (parallel to U.S. 176/Spartanburg Hwy.)
in Hendersonville.