- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Republican candidates and conservative activists are embracing the long-shunned election strategy of ballot harvesting after the party got defeated again by Democrats who use that game plan.

This year, it became clearer that Republicans won in places where they competed with Democrats’ ballot harvesting operations.

Ballot harvesting — when a third party collects completed ballots from voters and delivers them in bulk to election officials — was long opposed by Republicans, who said it was ripe for fraud.

But Reps. Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel, California Republicans, said they couldn’t afford to stay on the sidelines while Democrats reaped the benefits of ballot harvesting.

Both of them won reelection with the help of their campaigns’ ballot harvesting initiatives.

Mr. Garcia said ballot harvesting is the final part of an ongoing strategy of voter contact.

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“It’s not necessarily about harvesting; it’s about getting the vote,” he told The Washington Times.

He said he treats his campaigns as long-term courtships by deploying volunteers in communities for two years before an election and intensifying door-knocking as early voting and Election Day draw near.

“So we rely on several institutions. Some of the churches have helped us in that regard. We have multiple drop boxes, obviously, throughout the county that serve as very effective ways to have people drop off their ballot in a very convenient way,” he said.

Among the 31 states where voters authorize others to cast ballots on their behalf, nine restrict the number of ballots an authorized individual can return and four cap the period of time those ballots can remain in the authorized person’s possession, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Those prohibitions were established out of concern that providing the convenience of returning ballots could evolve into pressuring people to vote a particular way.

Republican activists celebrated the party’s advances with ballot harvesting even if the results of the midterm elections were disappointing in some respects, including the failure to win the Senate majority.

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“The House of Representatives is GOP-controlled thanks to how we performed in states with the most liberal ballot harvesting and vote-by-mail laws — New York, Oregon, California. We can master this system. Democrats are praying that we refuse to try,” Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk said in a post on Twitter.

“I miss politics where the better arguments and the hardest working candidates won elected office,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of which political machine can capture the most ballots in a 30-day window. So be it, we will now have to beat the left at the game.”

Mr. Kirk is not alone in his thinking. The Federalist’s CEO and co-founder, Sean M. Davis, said in a tweet that Republicans blaming midterm results on “candidate quality” and former President Donald Trump are just putting up a “smokescreen for the GOP getting its bell rung on ballot harvesting and the base mechanics of electioneering.”

He added, “The *one thing* that’s the actual job of the party establishment is the one thing it refused to do.”

Harmeet K. Dhillon, chairwoman of the Republican National Lawyers Association, responded to Mr. Davis by saying, “The party establishment is fine doing this. The base doesn’t like it. We do ballot harvesting in CAGOP and get attacked by ‘election integrity’ groups. You can dislike the law and work to change it, but it’s silly to leave votes on the table.”

A Republican National Committee spokesman said it is sticking to its policy of opposing ballot harvesting but is leaving wiggle room for candidates.

“Republicans also know we must play by the rules set out by each state and will leave no stone unturned to win as many races as possible up and down the ballot,” the RNC said in a statement to The Times.

The RNC prevailed with the 2021 Supreme Court ruling of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee to uphold a ban on ballot harvesting in Arizona. The RNC also partnered with the California Republican Party to drive up voter turnout via different ballot collection methods.

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said part of the problem with the term “ballot harvesting” is that it is not clearly defined.

“Ballot harvesting is a completely corrupt process that Republicans should reject. That being said, as we know, it’s been made legal,” Mr. Schlapp said. “In some ways, you can say it’s always been legal because you always had people who were handicapped or people who were older, who needed assistance.

“The law never meant to say that you can’t vote if you have difficulties and, of course, as the left does with everything, they run a Mack truck through any kind of little exception,” he said.

Mr. Schlapp encouraged Republicans to engage in ballot harvesting where the practice is legal if it is the only way to defeat Democrats.

“It’s kind of like a business that deals with a corrupt tax code. It can yell about the tax code … but in the end, it has to follow the tax code and take advantage of the tax code,” he said. “And even businesses that take advantage of tax deductions they find abhorrent and immoral, but they still do it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the political party of Reps. Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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