GOP quietly works to expand California ballot-harvesting while criticizing Democrats for the practice

By Amy Gardner | The Washington Post

Ever since their drubbing in California’s congressional races in the fall, national Republicans have raised questions about a new state law that allows campaigns to collect mail ballots directly from voters, suggesting such “harvesting” could lead to fraud.

In recent weeks, GOP leaders have intensified that criticism, attempting to equate the Democrat-backed law in California with an illegal ballot-fraud operation that boosted a Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina in the fall.

But the behind the scenes, GOP leaders and on-the-ground operatives are privately strategizing ways to improve their own ballot-harvesting operations in California, where the party now holds seven out of 53 congressional seats, according to people familiar with the efforts.

Ballot harvesting, also known as ballot collection, refers to the practice of third-party collection of mail-in ballots. In states where it is legal, campaigns use the tactic to drive up turnout among their own supporters who might not otherwise have the time or desire to cast their ballot.

Republicans tested the tactic in a few races last year, encouraging voters in one Orange County district to entrust their ballots to campaign workers carrying ID badges marked “ballot security” to convey legitimacy, according to those involved.

“We got our clocks cleaned,” Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, told GOP donors last month in a private conference call, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.

“While the Democrats had an operation on the ground that was actually doing the ballot-harvesting, we did not have a corresponding organization that was doing that,” Emmer said. “That won’t happen again.”

Republican attempts to match Democratic ballot-collection programs come as the party tries to both recover from its midterm losses and distance itself from the illegal GOP ballot-harvesting scheme in North Carolina that last month led state officials to call for a new election.

National GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have sought to deflect attention from the embarrassing episode by equating what is permitted in California with the alleged ballot tampering in North Carolina, which investigators say included filling out, forging and discarding voters’ ballots – activity that is illegal in all states.

McCarthy and other Republicans have noted that the Democratic voting-reform legislation the House approved on Friday does not ban gathering absentee ballots directly from voters, which is allowed in 19 states.

“Can you imagine putting the trust of your vote in the hands of a stranger?” McCarthy said last week in a speech on the House floor. “If that doesn’t scare you, it should. Sadly, this practice was weaponized in California and North Carolina not so long ago.”

McCarthy’s public denunciation of ballot-collection efforts contrasts sharply with what Republicans have been saying behind the scenes.

“We just can’t allow California to slip off, over the fault line,” Emmer said on the donor call, adding that McCarthy “is laser-focused” on becoming more competitive with ballot collection in 2020.

Republican Party officials said that they remain concerned about potential fraud in California, even as they seek to improve their …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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