Last month, the voters of California’s 10th congressional district rejected four-term Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) in the midterm elections, choosing Democrat Josh Harder 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent. He faced tough odds: his district had favored Hillary Clinton in 2016 by three percentage points, and he voted with Donald Trump 97.8 percent of the time over the past two years. But on Monday, Denham claimed that the only reason he lost is that Democrats collected too many mail-in ballots.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Denham claimed that voters of his district actually loved the wildly unpopular Trump tax cuts that mostly benefited the very rich and large corporations. He said the average family of four saved $2,100 from the law, though most estimates put the figure closer to just $800.
Co-host Kasie Hunt pressed Denham on why he thought he lost if the tax cut were so popular in the California 10th. He blamed “ballot harvesting.”
“Ballot harvesting is legal now in California as of this last election. When you can find 250,000 ballots after election day, you can move a lot of different seats. My seat: we won early votes, we won absentee votes, we won Election Day votes,” Dunham said.
“So your loss had nothing to do with President Trump in your view? It had to do with this ‘ballot harvesting?'” Hunt asked.
“If you look at polling numbers, the president was polling almost even right before my election. We were up by 8 points,” he responded.
After the party was wiped out in California and lost 7 of its 14 seats in the U.S. House, a number of Republicans have been trying to explain away their defeat by suggesting that Democrats had engaged in some sort of shady electioneering. Republicans use the term “ballot harvesting” to suggest local party officials had magically grown ballots after the elections and collected them to snatch victories from their true winners.
In reality, the term simply means that vote-by-mail voters in California who are unable to get their own ballots returned may give their completed ballot envelopes to someone else to deliver to the electoral board before the election ends — much as people have done for decades with their outgoing mail. The San Francisco Chronicle described the Republican’s strategy as using the term “ballot harvesting” as “a sinister-sounding way of saying their opponents turned out more votes than they did.”
Because Democrats in California typically vote later, it is typical that their votes get counted later in the process. As a result, the partial tallies on election night usually appear move favorable to the Republican candidate than the final totals. By suggesting that something nefarious happened, Denham can try to explain away the reality that nearly 10,000 more people voted for his opponent.