Confidence in the accuracy of election results is of paramount importance in our country, especially during a time of deep partisan divisions. That’s why what happened in New Jersey should concern everyone.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, New Jersey moved to an all vote-by-mail system. In late June, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal charged Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson and Councilman-elect Alex Mendez with voting fraud. Two other men were also named.
Charges included fraud in casting mail ballots and unauthorized possession of ballots. Many of the problems were related to a pernicious practice called ballot harvesting. In New Jersey, a voter can designate a “bearer” to deliver his or her ballot. The four men allegedly delivered ballots even though their names weren’t listed as the bearer. The charges allege that Mr. Jackson received a ballot from one voter that was unsealed. The Board of Elections later received that ballot in a sealed envelope. Mr. Mendez was charged with submitting a voter registration application for someone he knew wasn’t eligible to vote in the district for which he registered that person.
The investigation started after postal workers found hundreds of ballots bundled together in two mailboxes. The post office then alerted election officials. Ultimately, those ballots didn’t end up being counted. Good.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” Mr. Grewal said in a statement. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
Mr. Grewal should be commended for taking swift action against those committing acts of fraud. But the investigation started only when postal workers came across hundreds of mail ballots. If those ballots had been left in public mailboxes in groups of 20, it seems likely this alleged scheme never would have been discovered.
The scandal also highlights potential issues with massive mail-in voting and with ballot harvesting. The sanctity of the secret ballot can easily be compromised, as evidenced by a voter giving an unsealed ballot to Mr. Jackson. Meanwhile, ballot harvesting gives a third party — not the government or the voter — access to a ballot, expanding the chain of custody and increasing the potential for shenanigans. The security problems this presents are obvious. It’s hard to think Mr. Jackson and Mr. Mendez returned unfavorable ballots.
The New Jersey incident isn’t proof of widespread fraud. But it’s a stark reminder that safeguards must be in place to maintain election integrity and that mail-in ballots present unique opportunities for dishonest people to engage in illegal activity.