February 21, 2024
A lawful poll drop off level on the Del Mar Library in 2020. Picture by Chris Jennewein

For years, Republicans have railed in opposition to “poll harvesting” as an underhanded tactic by Democrats to win elections.  

However for the 2024 election, the California GOP goes large on amassing ballots from voters and dropping them off at election places of work or polling locations, which is authorized in California, with some situations.  

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Partially, it’s a mirrored image of political actuality: With a number of exceptions, the Republican Occasion has been struggling. On prime of Democratic majorities within the Legislature since 1996, no Republican has been elected statewide workplace since 2006.

And for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic, California has despatched mail ballots to each registered voter, making it simpler for folks to forged their ballots earlier and never simply at polling locations on Election Day.

“These are the foundations that we now have been given. And we now have to play by these guidelines,” stated Jessica Millan Patterson, chairperson of the California Republican Occasion. “It doesn’t make any sense to solely be Election Day voters. That’s like solely taking part in three quarters of a soccer sport.”

Patterson stated she has acknowledged the significance of early voting since 2018, when she ran for get together chairperson — a “very darkish time” when the GOP misplaced half of its congressional delegation. And she or he’s nonetheless saying it although mail voting has been central to former President Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“We’d win California in a basic election in the event that they didn’t have a rigged voting system, the place they ship out 22 million ballots,” Trump informed the get together conference final month inside the first jiffy of his speech — opposite to some messaging from his personal marketing campaign. “No person is aware of the place they’re going, who they’re going to, who indicators them, who delivers them, and who the hell counts ‘em? No person is aware of.” 

Later on the conference, although, delegates attended a session on poll harvesting, which session leaders stated might seize the votes of “lazy Republicans” in key areas. However they stated it in all probability isn’t well worth the effort in closely Democratic neighborhoods. 

Whereas mail-in voting is extensively considered benefiting Democrats, research discover it doesn’t favor one get together over the opposite.

“We didn’t discover that there was a celebration benefit like rising turnout. It didn’t improve turnout extra for Democrats versus Republicans,” stated Mindy Romero, director of the Heart for Inclusive Democracy at USC’s Value College of Public Coverage.

California is certainly one of 31 states that enables an individual voting by mail to designate another person to return their poll, in response to the Nationwide Convention of State Legislatures. Previous to 2017, solely household or family members might return ballots, however the Legislature modified that partly as a result of there was no approach to implement that regulation, in response to Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Basis.

Now, anybody can return the poll so long as that particular person isn’t compensated based mostly on the variety of ballots returned (it’s authorized to be paid a flat charge). The particular person should signal the envelope and return the poll in particular person or by mail inside three days of receiving it, or earlier than polls shut on Election Day.  

What’s not authorized? 

Forcing anybody you’re amassing a poll from to vote a sure method. Employers are additionally barred from requiring or asking workers to usher in their ballots. 

Unofficial dropboxes are additionally prohibited. In 2020, California despatched a cease-and-desist letter to the state Republican Occasion, in addition to native chapters in Fresno, Orange County and Los Angeles, for deceptive practices, reminiscent of inserting poll drop packing containers that had been falsely labeled as “official.” The state threatened authorized motion, however stood down after the California GOP agreed to change the way it collected ballots.

Requested if it could deploy dropboxes in 2024, the get together solely responded that it plans to “make use of a strong poll harvesting program that ensures that voters have extra choices to forged their poll within the main and basic elections.”

Alexander sees the GOP effort to amp up third-party poll returns as constructive. However she does consider the legal guidelines governing the method might be extra clear, and that election officers ought to educate voters extra about their rights — reminiscent of rejecting somebody’s supply to gather a poll.  

She additionally notes that state regulation requires that the poll collector fill out their title, relationship to the voter and signature on every poll envelope. However even when that info is just not stuffed out, that’s not essentially grounds for rejecting the poll. The data and signature are extra like a contract between the voter and the collector. 

“That’s why I’d at all times urge folks to solely flip their poll over to any individual who they belief, and to guarantee that particular person takes a while to fill out that info of their presence so that they know that particular person is being accountable to them,” Alexander stated. 

The Potential Payoff

For the 2024 election, the state GOP plan is targeted on grassroots efforts — recruiting volunteers to go door-to-door to construct relationships with voters and later accumulate ballots. 

That trust-building could be key to convincing those who their ballots shall be counted. The get together can even proceed to recruit election observers — one thing anybody is entitled to do — and is assigning an election integrity chairperson and a lawyer in every county.

“We are going to proceed to do the work that we’re doing to guarantee that people are voting by each authorized means crucial,” Patterson stated.

However for all of the Republican Occasion’s plans, they aren’t prone to have a lot affect on statewide elections. There are about 27 million people who find themselves eligible to vote in California, and of the 22 million who’re registered 47% are Democrats, 24% are Republicans, and 23% haven’t any get together choice.

In California’s 2022 basic election, information analyzed by the Heart for Inclusive Democracy exhibits a better share of registered Republican voters turned out than Democrats — 61% in comparison with 53% — however Newsom nonetheless gained by almost 20 share factors. 

However in some swing congressional and legislative races, Republicans narrowly gained in Democratic-majority districts final November. As an illustration, U.S. Rep. John Duarte, a Modesto Republican, beat Democrat Adam Grey by 564 votes in one of many closest congressional races within the nation in a district the place President Biden beat Trump by 14.5 share factors. And Republican Assemblymember Josh Hoover ousted Democrat Ken Cooley by 1,383 votes in a Sacramento-area district.  

Final November, of the greater than 11.1 million votes forged in California, about 9.8 million had been returned by mail or dropbox.

Patterson stated that resulting from restricted sources, she has to make selections on the place to spend cash — which suggests a continued concentrate on races the place poll harvesting could make an affect, reminiscent of these swing district congressional seats. 

“Watching what we’ve executed and the affect that we’ve already had — and the function that poll harvesting and early voting has performed in that — has completely already made a distinction.”

Cynthia Thacker, one of many organizers of the GOP’s Take Again North Orange County motion, began amassing ballots from buddies earlier than the get together began encouraging it. Poll harvesting is among the keys to their effort. 

Thacker says she understands voters’ reluctance at hand their ballots to another person, however sees it as safer than mailing them in. “It’s our method of a minimum of ensuring — as a substitute of mailing it — that we will attempt to get your poll counted.” 

CalMatters is a public curiosity journalism enterprise dedicated to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it issues.