If the 2020 pandemic makes vote-by-mail inevitable for this November’s presidential election, the nation needs to know how not to do it the Oregon way, which encourages ballot harvesting.
In 1998, Secretary of State Phil Keisling introduced vote-by-mail to Oregon and the nation. At the time, it seemed a decent idea. But Keisling, a good government reformer, forgot one thing — to secure the ballot box. He instead left it wide open for 20 days in every election. Between special elections, primaries, and general elections, Oregonians can literally spend months in the middle of an election.
The late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, Oregon’s only Republican statewide office holder in 18 years, examined vote-by-mail and found very little “Chicago-style” fraud. What he didn’t examine, and what Oregonians have had to deal with, is a more complicated corruption, and an insidious part of the vote-by-mail process known as ballot harvesting.
Here’s how that works. County election offices provide voter lists to campaigns. These lists include information about what political party a voter is registered in and how often they vote. Voters are characterized as 4×4 voters (voted in the last two general elections and primaries); 3×4 voters (skipped one of the last two primary elections); 2×4 voters, and so on.
But in Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, county elections offices don’t just disclose your party registration and voting history, they also regularly inform campaigns of the status of the voter’s ballot, usually daily throughout Oregon’s lengthy 18-day voting window. Ballot harvesting is when campaigns determine exactly which voters have already turned in their ballots, and then they come after those who have not. Lots of phone calls, lots of door knocks, lots of robo-calls. If you purposely wait to vote until the last day (savvy voters have realized that many major scandals haven’t surfaced until the final days of a campaign), the efforts border on outright harassment.