West Virginia’s elections are generally clean and free of shenanigans, but it was not always that way. Years ago, the state was infamous for vote buying, especially in some southern West Virginia counties.
The old ways die hard. As recently as 2012, the Lincoln County sheriff and county clerk were caught in a ballot harvesting scandal. Sheriff Jerry Bowman, who was running for re-election, admitted to federal investigators that he collected more than 100 absentee ballots from voters, was in the room when they voted, and sometimes marked the ballots himself.
Ballot harvesting is illegal in West Virginia, as it should be for obvious reasons. However, that practice would be perfectly legal in every state in the country under S.1, the Democrat-backed omnibus For the People Act. The bill has passed the House on a party line vote and is now under consideration in the Senate.
The bill says, “A state shall permit a voter to designate any person to return a voted and sealed absentee ballot to” (any designated location), and that states “may not put a limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return.”
That is vote harvesting on steroids.
Another section of the bill specifically prohibits states from imposing “any additional conditions or requirements” on individuals who want to vote an absentee ballot. That opens the door for a flood of no-excuse absentee ballots.
The combination of those two provisions creates a perfect storm for fraud. It invites bad actors to collect and return both legitimate and illegally obtained absentee ballots.
Candidates, political parties, and special interest groups would be able to legally pay individuals to scour the countryside rounding up ballots. Yes, the bill requires that the ballots be returned “voted and sealed,” but that is a giant loophole.
Nefarious harvesters will take a cue from the scofflaws of past elections, give a little help to the voter or just do it the old Lincoln County way and mark the ballot themselves.
West Virginia law currently permits one person to deliver a total of two absentee ballots per election. That is a practical provision that allows a spouse to drop off ballots from both husband and wife or a child to deliver the votes of two parents.
But this federal proposal creates a nightmare scenario where an untold number of individuals in every state could be collecting millions of ballots, guaranteeing that another set of hands with a vested interest in the outcome of the election will have handled the ballots before they are counted.
If this bill becomes law, Sheriff Bowman deserves an apology. We thought he was trying to fix an election, but it turns out he was just ahead of his time.