Republicans should insist on tracking for ballot harvesting states

Ballot harvesting schemes are being orchestrated across the country with the help of Democratic election officials and judges hell bent on handing the White House to former vice president Joe Biden.

Republicans and Democrats are currently locked in litigation over mail-in ballots with 200 lawsuits pending in battleground states over voting deadlines, signatures and an array of other issues.

President Donald Trump has criticized mail-in voting for its potential to unleash widespread fraud if the postal service infrastructure is overloaded with millions more ballots than previous years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The perils of ballot harvesting came to light Thursday when an East Texas county commissioner was arrested on charges that he and three associates committed voter fraud in a 2018 primary election.

A grand jury indicted Shannon Brown, a Democratic Gregg County commissioner based in Kilgore, Marlena Jackson, Charlie Burns and DeWayne Ward for 134 felony charges. They allegedly orchestrated a scheme that involved falsely claiming voters were disabled in order to obtain absentee ballots.

County election results show Brown won a narrow victory in the March Democratic primary. He received 1,047 votes to his opponent’s 1,042 votes, with much of his support coming from absentee ballots.

Brown and the others were accused of “intentionally [causing] false information to be provided on an application for ballot by mail,” of about 38 voters with applications indicating that “the voter was disabled, when in fact the voter was not disabled.”

Republicans should insist on a system of accountability for mail-in ballots. Georgia has implemented an absentee ballot tracking service to assure voters that their ballots will be properly handled and their votes will count.

Voters can now receive text messages, emails or phone calls to track their ballot’s progress through BallotTrax, which was launched on Friday. It will allow voters to sign up for alerts when their absentee ballots are issued, received and accepted.

Election officials urged voters to ensure their ballots will be counted by returning them well in advance.

The notifications will build confidence that absentee ballots have made their way through the system, said Gabriel Sterling, voting system implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

“It’s going to give more transparency and information in a timely manner,” Sterling said. “This is another tool we’re giving voters to be informed and be comfortable with their vote, however they choose to vote.”

The notifications will reflect the same absentee ballot information that’s already available on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Voters will be alerted when their ballot status changes so they don’t have to be constantly checking for updates.

Ballot tracking through the U.S. Postal Service isn’t included through BallotTrax because of the difficulty of setting it up this close to the Nov. 3 election, Sterling said. Mail tracking could be added in future elections.

Steve Olsen, president of Denver-based BallotTrax, said voters need faith that their absentee ballots will be counted, especially in a state like Georgia where so many people are new to voting by mail. Officials estimate that as many as 1.7 million voters could return absentee ballots this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s about peace of mind,” Olsen said. “They don’t trust that their vote is going to be counted if it goes into a black hole and they never hear about it. With BallotTrax, they know not only that the ballot has been accepted, but they can watch it flow through the process.”

Voters who do not receive a notification that their ballot has been received by their county’s elections office can contact local election officials to find out if something went wrong, Olsen said. BallotTrax will also let voters know if absentee ballots are rejected, giving them time to correct problems with missing or mismatched signatures.

Voters can sign up for BallotTrax at georgia.ballottrax.net by entering their name, birth date and zip code.