New voting laws revive fights over 'ballot harvesting'

FILE - In this June 9, 2020, file photo election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. As President Donald Trump's reelection campaign challenged Nevada's new voting law in court, the president and Republicans argued the rules would facilitate fraud and illegal voting. Chief among their volley of criticism was the law's provision allowing ballot harvesting." The Nevada lawsuit highlighted a practice that has long fueled Republicans' suspicions about the dangers of mail-in voting. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
FILE - In this June 9, 2020, file photo election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. As President Donald Trump's reelection campaign challenged Nevada's new voting law in court, the president and Republicans argued the rules would facilitate fraud and illegal voting. Chief among their volley of criticism was the law's provision allowing ballot harvesting." The Nevada lawsuit highlighted a practice that has long fueled Republicans' suspicions about the dangers of mail-in voting. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LAS VEGAS – As President Donald Trump's reelection campaign challenged Nevada's new voting law in court, the president and Republicans argued the rules would facilitate fraud and illegal voting. Chief among their criticisms was a provision allowing “ballot harvesting."

The Nevada lawsuit highlighted a practice that has long fueled Republicans' suspicions about mail-in voting.

Although widely practiced and rarely found to be abused, the rule permitting a third party to collect and return multiple ballots remains a source of partisan dispute. Those fights are likely to continue up to Election Day as states adjust their laws for the pandemic. One of the few recent instances of fraud related to ballot collection happened in North Carolina in 2018, resulting in a congressional election being overturned.

More than half of states allow a third party to collect ballots. And political groups and campaigns from both parties have run ballot-collection programs aimed at boosting turnout and ensuring voters who are older, homebound, disabled, or live far from U.S. postal services can get their ballot returned.

“This is not new ground,” Nevada’s Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement. “Allowing someone to assist a voter in turning in their ballot helps protect vulnerable populations, including our tribal and rural communities."

Trump and the GOP contend “ballot harvesting” opens the door for fraud and have fought to restrict it. This has escalated as states prepare for greater reliance on absentee voting or vote-by-mail amid COVID-19.

“The issue has taken on heightened importance because there are so many people that are either confined to their homes or fearful of going to out to the post office because of the coronavirus,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

This year, Republicans and Democrats have squared off in lawsuits over the third-party collection of ballots in Pennsylvania, Florida and Minnesota. In Wisconsin, a conservative law firm known as the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty requested that election officials outlaw the process. Though that state’s laws don’t specifically address “ballot harvesting,” officials said they weren’t aware of any efforts to systematically collect absentee ballots in the state and did not impose a rule prohibiting it.