February 2, 2023 |
Ballot drop boxes will be allowed under a ballot harvesting bill passed by the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions yesterday.
House Bill 211, sponsored by Committee Chairman Jared Olsen of Cheyenne, attempts to define “good” ballot harvesting from the bad.
As an increasing number of states have made mail-in and absentee voting more accessible, more people are using absentee ballots. Despite the increased convenience, the reliance on someone other than the voter to deliver a ballot is also at an increase—a practice known as ballot harvesting, which has increased the opportunity for voter fraud.
Rules vary from state to state. Wyoming’s statutes are vague.
Rep. Olsen said his attempts to provide definitions that allow some types of ballot harvesting and criminalize others.
Pictured above: File photo of a ballot drop box outside the Carbon County Courthouse in 2020. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.
Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray told the committee his is opposed to the use of drop boxes. Gray, who was elected last fall largely on his promise to tighten election security, addressed lawmakers about ballot harvesting and drop boxes. Although drop boxes, or policies regarding their use are not codified anywhere in state law, a section of HB 211 allows a third party to drop off someone else’s ballot into a drop. The secretary of state said the practice poses an election security risk.
Mary Langford with the Wyoming County Clerks Association defended the use of drop boxes, saying they are secure, well-lit at night and under video surveillance at all times.
During the Covid year of 2020, then Secretary of State Ed Buchannan first authorized the use of drop boxes in Wyoming with a suggested set of directives, including a documented chain of custody regarding the collection of the ballots from the boxes.
Langford said drop boxes have become popular in the counties that use them because they are convenient and more efficient than the postal service.
Laramie County Clerk Deborah Lee told the committee that the drop boxes were popular, especially among older voters, in both the primary and general elections last year. Lee said 4,500 voters in Laramie County requested absentee ballots in the General Election.
The clerks also provided testimony that their definition of ballot harvesting is a third-party person submitting someone else’s ballot to a county clerk to be counted without the authorization of the voter. Questions about different housing situations, including assisted living centers, required the clarification.
The elections committee adopted a lengthy amendment submitted by the county clerks’ association in its entirety, including upgrading the offense for unauthorized ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a felony.
HB 211 passed the committee on an 8-1 vote with drop boxes allowed as an acceptable way to submit ballots to a county clerk. The bill was sent to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation.