The Republican Party is going to court this year to stop voters from using the same method President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump used this week: casting mail-in votes with help from a designated contact, who is authorized to pick up and drop off the ballots.
The Trumps relied on Republican Party contact Alejandro Garcia to ferry their ballots to and from Florida, CNN reported on Wednesday.
In short, the dispute – which largely falls along party lines – is over “letting someone other than a family member collect your ballot,” said Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in voting rights law.
Just this week, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee sued over allowing the practice of ballot collecting in New Jersey, among other things.
The risk of fraud or mistakes could rise if voters can use third-party contacts to deliver their ballots to election centers in New Jersey, the Republicans alleged.
“Ballot harvesters are usually politically motivated third parties – campaign workers, union members, political activists, paid personnel, or volunteers. They go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in ballots for voters,” Republicans wrote in a lawsuit, using the pejorative term “harvesters” for what’s typically called ballot collection.
The contradiction between how the President submitted his ballot and what his party advocates for adds to a list of ways Trump has twisted his public stance to inflame baseless claims of fraud three months before election day.
Currently, 10 states allow a voter to send in a ballot through a family member, and 26 states allow others to return ballots, such as in Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And it’s an issue that’s come up repeatedly in court fights across the country this summer, with Republicans often on the side of limiting ballot collecting.
The President has railed on Twitter over mail-in voting for weeks – and even wrote in April “GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD.” This month, however, he defended Florida’s practices, calling the state’s vote by mail process “Safe and Secure, Tried and True.”
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign didn’t respond to a request Wednesday for an explanation of how the President’s voting and his political position coexist.
Lawyers for the Democratic Party have made attempts to allow community organizations to collect and deliver completed ballots a cornerstone of their efforts in court this cycle, as they seek to expand people’s opportunities to vote by avoiding polling places during the pandemic.
In Florida, where the Trumps are voting, there are some limits on ballot collections.
The state allows for any person a voter designates to pick up no more than two mail-in ballots other than their own in an election.
Progressive groups earlier this year had gone to court to expand ballot collecting so that any person could deliver a ballot on behalf of a voter to election authorities. But Republicans wanted to keep that limited, arguing that a ballot collector touching many ballots could mean they’re interested in influence votes.
Levitt, who studies election cases across the country, noted that the court fights over ballot collecting can mean a great deal to some voters, especially if they’re in rural areas, on Native American reservations, or don’t speak English as a first language. “You may welcome the assistance … That doesn’t mean you have to trust anyone who comes to the door,” he said.
That, he pointed out, is the same type of judgment that President made for himself in Florida. “He’s aware of the risk” and trusted Garcia to handle his ballot, Levitt said.