After two years of unrelenting rhetoric about the dangers of voting by mail—a completely unfounded assault on voting rights, led by former President Trump and his MAGA acolytes—two Pennsylvania GOP officials were fired Tuesday for involvement in a “ballot harvesting” operation.
Ballot harvesting is a political maneuver where operatives collect absentee ballots from voters and deliver them to a polling place or election office. In this case, more than three dozen mail-in ballot applications were found to have been delivered to a P.O. Box in South Philidelphia instead of the homes of voters.
According to Penn Live, the two fired were Shamus O’Donnell, 27, and C.J. Parker, 24. O’Donnell worked with the Republican Registration Coalition as the former treasurer and was a GOP ward leader in the political action committee (PAC) in Northeast Philadelphia. Parker was also a GOP ward leader in the Northeast Philadelphia PAC and is a former aide to Lawrence Tabas, a state party chair.
As initially reported by The Philidelphia Inquirer, many of the voters whose ballots were misdirected told the Inquirer they never applied to vote for mail, although dozens of Republican ballots for the May 17 primary had been redirected to the P.O. box registered to the Republican Registration Coalition.
Penn Live reports that one out of every six GOP ballot applications from the ward where O’Donnell and Parker worked listed the P.O. box connected to the Northeast Philidelphia PAC.
Rose DeSantis, 35, told the Inquirer she never asked for a mail-in ballot, and yet hers was found at the P.O. box. “This doesn’t even make any sense… You would think that would raise some red flags,” DeSantis said.
Penn Live reports that the chairman of the Republican Registration Coalition and a one-time GOP ward leader, Billy Lanzilotti, 23, helped voters fill out ballot applications and put his P.O. box address on the forms where voters should have put their own home addresses. Lanzilotti claimed to Penn Live this was a “service to voters.”
Lanzilotti told the Inquirer that his goal was “to help pump out the Republican voter turnout,” and that earlier this month, he started going door-to-door to get residents in the 26th Ward to vote by mail. He claims he filled out the forms with his P.O. box so that later they could be delivered to voters by someone he trusted.
“There’s been a number of problems with the post office lately,” Lanzilotti said. ”Checks are being stolen out of the mail. They like it this way because I’m someone they trust.”
Lanzilotti’s P.O. box was used in several Philidelphia ballots; it was the only address receiving such a high volume of ballots that was not an elections office or a nursing home, according to Penn Live. And in the mailing address portion of the forms, the handwriting was different than the rest of the forms and the same on all of the forms, according to the Inquirer.
One voter, Maria Morris, 55, told the Inquirer she switched her party registration after a man appeared at her front door. She signed some paperwork.
“He didn’t mention anything about ballots,” she said.
Lanzilotti was voted out of office last week by his fellow GOP ward leaders.
O’Donnell’s attorney, Matt Wolfe, says his client is innocent in Lanzilotti’s scheme.
“Shamus had no knowledge of the mail ballot applications and what Billy Lanzilotti was doing,” Wolfe claimed. Wolfe works as a GOP ward leader in West Philadelphia.
Matt Haverstick, an elections lawyer who works with Republican campaigns told the Inquirer, “There are some things you’re describing that I think have arguments that could be made that they’re appropriate, there are some arguments that can be made that they’re inappropriate… But the whole zeitgeist of what you’re telling me smacks of unlawful conduct.”
According to the Brennan Center, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. “Voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators. The same is true for mail ballots, which are secure and essential to holding a safe election amid the coronavirus pandemic,” the Brennan Center website reads.
The handful of cases that could be defined as intentional voter fraud have mostly included Republicans trying to vote twice for Trump, whether through ballots that belonged to someone else or by voting in multiple states or districts.
After an exhaustive review of voter fraud in six states by the Associated Press, fewer than 475 cases were uncovered. Not nearly enough to have changed the outcome of Trump’s loss to Biden, according to Fortune.