On October 26, 2014 in the Arizona Republic, columnist Doug MacEachern had an article about Ballot Harvesting (article on AZ CENTRAL) in which the President of the League of Women Voters of Arizona was quoted. Here is the email discussion that I had with Mr. MacEachern that also can be read on his blog: (on AZ Central). My comments focused on the legal right of any organization to collect completed early ballots and hand deliver to an official collection center. Please take a moment and read the questions and my comments.
In League – Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer, LWVAZ President
1) In your statement, you contend that what occurred is “not different than any other get-out-the-vote campaign that assists voters getting to polling places on election day.”
The man delivering the box containing what looks like dozens of ballots is a member of an activist political group that is funded in large part by union organizations, many of which have a strong interest in the outcome of issues and candidates on the ballot. If the video constitutes proof of anything, it is that Citizens for a Better Arizona has inserted itself between the polls and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of voters.
Is it your contention that there is nothing wrong with that? Is it fair to conclude that you are comfortable that the integrity of those ballots would not be compromised by voters turning them over, by the hundreds, to a political activist group?
It is our understanding from the organization involved that they have trained their people in how to collect ballots from those individuals that have agreed to have them delivered by that organization. They have a process that seems appropriate and respectful of the early voting process. We see no problem with collecting of ballots from those who have completed their early ballots. Individuals may have many reasons why they may trust someone hand delivering their ballot rather than mailing it or they may not be able to easily hand deliver it themselves.
This organization is no different from any other political organization that is doing the same activities, such as political party organizations, all of whom have a strong interest in the outcome of the elections. And as I said in my statement – this is no different than the get-out-the-vote efforts of taking people to the polls on election day to vote. Those organizations, many of the same, too have a strong interest in the outcome of the elections. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, has always worked to protect and enhance voting rights for all Americans.
2) I would like to know if the League has ever encouraged members to act as poll watchers on Election Day. Poll watchers, as I’m sure you know, work to assure the integrity of the election process by assuring voters face no interference in making their choices. It seems to me that poll watchers would object to a political activist taking charge of handling the ballot of a voter at the polls. Yet you see no difference? Kindly explain that position.
The League encourages members not only to be poll watchers but also to work at the polls on election day and many League members do. We are always concerned about the integrity of the election process whether it is the information and materials provided by election departments or how the counting of votes occur both the early voting process or the election day voting process. In the past, we have worked with members of the Legislature and Secretary of State’s office on changes to the early voting process that would insure the integrity of the process but not limit the ease and accessibility to the voting process. And we will continue to do so in the future as proposed changes come forward.
3) I’d like to know if it an official position of the League that political activist groups collecting and delivering mail-in ballots is a practice that should be encouraged. If so, why?
Again, the League of Women Voters has always worked to protect and enhance voting rights for all Americans. The League of Women Voters in Arizona maintains that any election system reform must provide a stronger voice for the greatest number of voters and should have a positive effect on voter participation. We do not have a position on the practice of delivering mail-in ballots by organizations. But we do organize and hold voter registration drives where we hand deliver to election offices completed voter registration forms – is this any different?
4) How do you know their process is “appropriate and respectful?” Because they told you it is? What gives you cause to accept such an assurance at face value? Aren’t these the same concerns that poll watchers are expected to observe?
We can only take the word of the organization when their field director says “they are trained not to touch a ballot or mark it in any way” and that they were only providing a service. The service they provide is not illegal. There is no reason to believe otherwise.
5) How do you know that the voter actually completed the ballot by him or herself? Again, assuring that a voter’s ballot is filled out without interference and is deposited by the voter to a secured location is the primary rationale for poll watching. Yet you accept this group’s assurances that it is doing nothing nefarious at face value? Why?
We can only assume all voters are actually completing their own ballot whether it is an early ballot or going to the polls. Often time voters go to the polls with their sample ballots will have them completed ahead of time. To us it would mean they are doing their homework and informing themselves about the candidates and issues on the ballot, not being coerced to vote a certain way. We trust that all voters have the capacity to make their own decisions whether in the privacy of their home or at a polling place.
6) You observed that this group “is no different from any other political organization that is doing the same activities.” What other groups are you aware of that collect hundreds or thousands of ballots?
I believe any group that is doing GOTV activities includes in their program some provision for assisting someone being able to vote whether it is picking up an early ballot for delivery to an election office or driving them to the polls. Mr. LaFaro commented in the story that the Republican party has been doing the same thing.
7) You ask if the League’s practice of turning in voter-registration forms is any different. Well, yes. It is. It is, first, not a ballot. If the League fails to turn in a voter-registration form, the voter will likely know it when she shows up at the polls or fails to get a mailed ballot. And, further, as I understand it, the efficacy of voter-registration forms is not a major election issue.
And in this case, the delivered ballots will be checked by the election department personnel for proper signatures before their votes are tallied.
Again, The League of Women Voters has always worked to protect and enhance voting rights for all Americans. The League of Women Voters in Arizona maintains that any election system reform must provide a stronger voice for the greatest number of voters and should have a positive effect on voter participation. We have trust in the voter — they make our democracy work!
8) You have noted, several times, your organization’s commitment to protecting voters rights for all Americans. A worthy commitment. But what about the League’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the system? The fact that an organization with a clearly identified political ax to grind inserts itself between the voter and her ballot strikes me as a blow to the integrity of the system. It strikes me as antithetical to the work of your own poll watchers.
Rhetoric and assurances aside, you really don’t know for a fact that these activists haven’t worked the system to make sure their candidates and issues are affirmed in the ballots they deliver. Why else would a politically active group like this one go to the effort it does, if not to get their candidates elected and their issues approved by voters?
It does not seem the integrity of the system has been harmed by this incident. It is legal for an organization to collect completed early voting ballots from those who have given it to them to hand deliver to an official ballot collection location. Again, the system in place has a process for determining if the ballots are accepted — the inspection of the signature on the completed ballot by election officials. We are open to working with legislators and the Secretary of State on changes, if needed, to the early voting process that would insure the integrity of the process but not limit the ease and accessibility to the voting process.