Ballot harvesting is a controversial practice, with some experts arguing that it improves voter participation and others claiming that it increases the risk of fraud. Regardless of its merits, it has been used in several high-profile elections in recent years and has reshaped the outcome of some of them. Here are four examples of how ballot harvesting has affected the results of recent elections:
1. California's 2018 midterm elections: In the 2018 midterm elections, California became the first state to legalize ballot harvesting. The practice allowed third-party organizations and individuals to collect and deliver mail-in ballots on behalf of voters. The result was a significant increase in voter turnout, with some districts reporting double the number of votes compared to the previous midterm election. The practice was particularly effective for Democrats, who used it to flip several congressional seats previously held by Republicans.
For example, in the 39th congressional district, Republican Young Kim led Democrat Gil Cisneros by nearly 3,000 votes on election night. However, after several days of counting, Cisneros pulled ahead and won by over 7,000 votes. The turnaround was attributed to the Democrats' effective use of ballot harvesting, which allowed them to collect and submit thousands of additional votes after Election Day.
2. North Carolina's 9th congressional district: The 2018 midterm elections in North Carolina's 9th congressional district were plagued by allegations of ballot harvesting and election fraud. The district's Republican candidate, Mark Harris, initially appeared to win by a narrow margin. However, an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections found that a political operative working for Harris had collected and submitted hundreds of absentee ballots on behalf of voters, in violation of state law.
The investigation also found evidence of widespread irregularities and manipulation of absentee ballots. As a result, the State Board of Elections ordered a new election, which was held in 2019. The Republican Party ultimately decided not to field a candidate, and Democrat Dan McCready won the seat in a special election.
3. Minnesota's 2020 general election: In the 2020 general election, Minnesota's 7th congressional district saw a significant increase in voter turnout, thanks in part to the state's effective use of ballot harvesting. The practice had been legalized in the state in 2016 and was used extensively by both parties in the 2020 election.
The result was a close race between Republican Michelle Fischbach and Democrat Collin Peterson, who had held the seat for nearly 30 years. Peterson initially appeared to win by a narrow margin, but Fischbach refused to concede and demanded a recount. The recount ultimately confirmed Peterson's victory, but the close race demonstrated the effectiveness of ballot harvesting in increasing voter turn out.
4. Georgia's 2020 Presidential Election: In the 2020 presidential election, Georgia was one of the key battleground states that helped deliver victory to Joe Biden. The state's new absentee ballot laws, which allowed any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without providing an excuse, coupled with the Democratic Party's extensive ballot harvesting efforts, contributed to a significant increase in voter turnout. In some counties, the number of absentee ballots cast exceeded the total number of votes cast in the previous presidential election. Biden ultimately won the state by a margin of just over 12,000 votes, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.