Commentary: Vote-By-Mail Protection Act would give absentee voters receipts to ensure their votes count

A primary election voter casts a provisional ballot at a polling place in Westerville, Ohio, in 2016.
A primary election voter casts a provisional ballot at a polling place in Westerville, Ohio, in 2016.
(Matt Rourke / AP)

Showing up on Election Day and putting on the “I voted” sticker offer a feeling of pride and participation that make us thankful to play a part in government.

Recent legislation, however, created an opportunity for campaign operatives to interfere with our elections. That changes the feeling of thankfulness to a feeling of skepticism that the election was conducted fairly.

Last year, a law went into effect allowing anyone to collect absentee ballots. Before this law, only family members were able to do that.

The change led campaign operatives and special interest groups to engage in ballot harvesting, going door-to-door collecting ballots from their targeted supporters.

During the first election where ballot harvesting was allowed, Californians experienced voter intimidation and coercion. According to an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Daily News, when a paid canvasser arrived at the home of one voter, they relentlessly asked which candidate the voter was supporting. After the citizen refused to share their political opinions, the paid canvasser asked the voter for their ballot.

Another problem with legalized ballot harvesting is that there is no way to ensure every vote will be counted. Voters who hand their ballots to campaign operatives have no way to tell if the collector actually turned in the ballot to be counted. Under the new system, there are no accountability measures to ensure canvassers don’t tamper with or destroy ballots.

In response to these problems, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board urged lawmakers to enact voter protections, writing, “Don’t allow voter coercion and corruption to take hold in California.” The editorial specifically urged us to reconsider the wisdom of allowing unknown third parties to collect ballots from voters.

Legislation introduced this year would require absentee ballot collectors to drop off completed ballots within two days of collection, or by Election Day.

This bill however, does not guarantee canvassers will deliver them. Shortening the time-frame for canvassers to turn in absentee ballots will not give voters peace of mind that their ballots will be turned in without interference. Law enforcement will still struggle to track down people who fail to turn in ballots.

As vice chairman of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, I want to guarantee every California citizen’s constitutional right to vote is protected. I have warned about ballot harvesting and the problems I predicted have materialized.

To ensure election integrity, I have introduced the “Vote-By-Mail Protection Act” that would require people who collect absentee ballots to give voters a receipt. This receipt identifies the canvasser and records the date and time they took possession of the ballot.

Voters will feel more secure when handing over their ballot because they will have a written record when they voted. This added accountability would discourage election fraud and allow authorities to identify anyone who interferes with an absentee ballot.

Every vote matters. No one should be concerned that their vote will be wasted by a voter fraud scheme. By giving voters a receipt for their ballot, California will give them the confidence that their ballot counts.

Assemblyman MATTHEW HARPER (R-Huntington Beach) represents the 74th Assembly District in the state Legislature.