By Richard Eber, California Political News and Views
I remember when my daughters were teenagers they constantly lobbied about being able to stay out beyond the 11 o’clock curfew imposed for those under 18. When confronted of the need to be back home prior to the witching hour the argument was made “All of my friends don’t have to return at that time. Everybody does it.”
A similar reality exists in politics when it comes to vote harvesting. This is the process where an unsupervised third party takes possession of a ballot and turns it in to be counted. During this period between when the piece of paper is signed and when it is delivered, the norm is to have the ballot manipulated in favor of desired candidate.
Presently there is a major controversy in North Carolina where a Republican operative has been caught collecting blank ballots and turning them in to favor the GOP aspirant. In a close election, the Republican Mark Harris, who won the race was not seated in Congress and a new run-off has been ordered to determine the winner.
To this I say “great.” There is no place in our political system for this type of travesty of the Democratic process. The explanation that both political parties engage in this type of activity is a feeble argument. It stinks!
In the same vein, it has been determined that similar tactics were used in the election last fall by the Democratic Party, especially in Orange County, to use vote harvesting methodology to capture several House of Representatives and State Legislature for seats previously held by Republicans.
Although what was done by Democrats to pick-up absentee ballots and return them on Election Day to be counted was legal because of a law passed in 2016, it was highly unethical and likely in violation of federal laws pertaining to conducting fair elections.
In Orange County there were approximately 250,000 absentee ballots handed in on Election Day. Republicans who had comfortable 7% leads ended up losing in landslides when all the votes were tabulated. What makes this even more bizarre is under normal circumstances Republican candidates end up picking up support from late arriving ballots as they statistically vote in greater numbers than Democrats.
In 2018 Republicans feel they were robbed and justifiably so. This bitter defeat was very much on the minds of Republican Delegates at the State GOP Convention held in the last weekend of February. Complaints could be heard in various meetings about how their candidates had been swindled and why Republican leadership did not utilize the same tactics to protect their turf?
As might be expected, outgoing GOP Chairman Jim Brulte had little to say on the subject of ballot harvesting . Despite this, it continued to be a topic of conversation during and after the proceedings in Sacramento.
This attitude of reprisals against what was perceived to be dirty tricks by Democrats who were able to get votes counted without a chain of custody from family members, seemed to go in one ear and out the other by the power brokers who were running the Republican Convention. Open ballet harvesting was conducted to propel little known Jessica Patterson to become the new Chairwomen of the State Party.
The way this rigged system worked is that County Chairs, elected officials, and party dignitaries had the right to vote for themselves and two proxies from parties that they selected. These groups publicly endorsed Jessica Patterson. Their names were prominently mentioned in her campaign literature distributed at the convention.
In addition, there was evidence that some County Chairs in selecting delegates to the convention, made sure those whom they picked would vote for their candidate. This was clearly illegal because bylaws of the party give delegates the right to choose whomever they please. In a couple of cases it is known that previously assigned voters who supported the insurgent candidates, had their right to attend the convention revoked by regional leaders.
With some 293 of these proxies held by so called Super delegates, the results of the election for Party Chair were pretty much in the bag prior to the first vote being counted. It did not matter that during the debate between Patterson and her challengers Steve Frank, and Travis Allen, the applause meter reading for her did not indicate much support on the floor.
In addition proposals brought forth that asked for future conventions to restrict proxies and to allow all County Central Committee members to vote at future gatherings were soundly defeated by the proxy holders and the voters they controlled.
Losing California GOP Chair candidate Travis Allen complained: “ballot harvesting is an affront to every American’s right to free and fair elections. Proxy harvesting, as was openly on display at the California Republican Party convention, takes the corrupt practice further as proxy forms are not even completed prior to collection by political operatives, leaving the votes to be cast as the proxy holder deems most advantageous. Proxy harvesting is a system that has been designed by the failing Republican establishment to control outcomes, and that is exactly what has happened once again.”
Regardless of what one might think of Travis and his energetic approach to politics, he is right. The hierarchy of the Republican Party was totally hypocritical in the way they manipulated the election process for State Chair to get their person in.
The big loser in their vote harvesting scandal is the Party itself. It will be difficult for Chairwomen Jessica Patterson to re-energize her charges when her support among the conservative base of delegates is so weak. The best thing she could do is engage her former advisories Travis Allen and Steve Frank to have meaningful roles for them moving forward
After telling delegates during her acceptance speech of a desire to reach out to them to be the leaders in promoting voter registration efforts, Allen and Frank, as of press time, have yet to be contacted. This is no surprise, as pledges put forth in these type of victory discourses are normally “promises made in the dark.” Hopefully, Patterson’s actions are not a preview of coming attractions from her so-called reform team.
At the end of the day our fragile democracy is left with the practice of vote harvesting on several levels, from Sacramento to North Carolina to Washington D.C. In reality, what has happened is little better than Boss Tweed’s advice “vote early and vote often.”
Somehow this horrible practice has to stop. Until a suitable case can be brought to the Supreme Court, there is little hope of overcoming the rationale that “everybody does it.”
Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.