Recently there was a case of Republican Party of the US illegally placing unauthorized ballot drop-boxes, to harvest legitimate ballots and presumably perform some illegal activity with them. This was first time I've heard of this type of election fraud, so I wonder, does this type of thing happen in other countries? Also, did it happen in the US before, or is it a novel type of fraud?
Something like that has happened in Germany (link in German), on a small scale. Elderly residents in a retirement home got induced by the staff to vote a certain way.
In another case in Germany (link in German), immigrants who could not speak the language were asked to request absentee ballots. (For municipal elections, any EU citizen can vote.)
In both cases more happened than mere harvesting but the harvesting contributed. There is always a little suspicion in settings like this -- elderly, possibly not quite lucid voters, staff who help them with administrative chores, nobody else to watch.
Violating the prescribed handling of ballot materials could be characterized as voting fraud, at least in colloquial language. The rules might legitimately ban ballot harvesting, or they might not.
When a voter comes to a regular polling station on election day, the identity of the voter gets checked against available documents, the voter is handed a ballot (or the electronic equivalent), the voter goes to an empty booth and marks the ballot, and the ballot goes into the ballot box. All but the marking happens in view of the local election officials and possibly a random group of other voters who are waiting in line.
- If I claim to be my grandmother, the officials should wonder.
- If my daddy wants to double-check my ballot, the officials should stop him. (That one has become harder to enforce with widespread smartphones. He could make me take a picture.)
- If I am actually deceased, the officials should smell a rat.
- If I do not immediately put my ballot into the ballot box, the officials should remind me.
- If I put my ballot into the ballot box, I can be confident that it will be counted.
A mailed ballot replaces these safeguards by different safeguards. In most cases there is an outer envelope with a signed affidavit and an inner envelope with the ballot paper. Some jurisdictions require a witness to countersign. Some jurisdictions require an absentee ballot to be requested, which gives one more opportunity to compare signatures, and the official ballot would be delivered by the postal service to supposed recipient.
- If a thousand voters request their absentee ballots to the same little hutch in the wood, the postman should wonder and report.
- If a random stranger walks down a street and steals ballot forms from the letter box, some resident should wonder and call the police.
- If one person delivers a sack full of ballot letters to the post office, the postman should wonder.
- If I put my ballot into the mail, I can be confident that it will arrive. I'm handing it to the official postal service, not to some random stanger.
Some argue that the safeguards for mail voting are fatally weaker than those for in-person voting. They may be weaker, but they have been good enough for military personnel for ages. But ballot harvesting weakens some of those safeguards even more. So it would be legitimate to completment the rules on absentee ballots by a prohibition of ballot harvesting.
When I was a local politician in a Western democracy (not the US), there was a situation where one of our observers at a polling count noticed a streak of postal ballots being verified where all of the addresses on the ballot papers were from the same retirement home, which housed large numbers of elderly people who had dementia and similar. All of the addresses had been filled out, very strangely, using pink ink, suggesting they had all been completed at the same time.
On election night, there was a consistent streak of votes for the opposing party, all of which were written using pink ink.
We subsequently found out that a local and somewhat notorious politician from the opposing party had visited said elderly care home and "spoken to" the residents.
Worth pointing out that, at that time, my party attracted an overwhelming share of the elderly vote nationally and it was the opposing party which typically had the youth vote.
A bit dubious, to say the least.