WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep Paul Gosar tweeted a video of President Donald Trump in April decrying mail-in voting. “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” Trump said in the video.
“Be wary of efforts to steal and corrupt our electoral process through ‘ballot harvesting’ and other avenues to voter fraud,” Gosar wrote on Twitter. “Voting by mail is a dangerous and slippery slope!”
But the Prescott Republican congressman has voted by mail at least eight times dating back to 2012, according to voting records provided to Arizona Mirror by the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office.
In May 2012, Gosar signed up for Arizona’s Permanent Early Voting List, the records show, meaning that he would automatically receive an early ballot for each election in which he was eligible to vote.
He subsequently voted by mail in the primary and general elections in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018.
Gosar’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
His public condemnations of voting by mail echo those of Trump and other Republicans who argue that it presents opportunities for fraud. But election experts have found no evidence of widespread fraud when voters cast ballots by mail. Elections officials in states that conduct all-mail ballots say the same.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress have pressed to ease access to ballot boxes during the coronavirus pandemic, advancing legislation that would help states to fund early voting and voting by mail.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva is among the members of Congress pushing for increased federal funding to give voters more options during the pandemic.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases continues rising in Arizona, it is critical that vote-by-mail and early voting be included and expanded in Arizona’s upcoming elections, alongside stringent guidelines to improve the safety, accessibility, and efficiency of in-person voting, so all Arizonans can safely participate,” Grijalva told the Mirror in a statement.
“Voters should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Despite rampant misinformation, voting by mail is one of the easiest, convenient, and most secure ways for everyone to exercise their constitutional right. Even in the absence of a pandemic, I remain a strong supporter of expanding voting options because every citizen has the right to have their voice heard on Election Day.”
Trump warned in March that voting reforms Democrats attempted to include in COVID-19 recovery legislation could hurt Republicans politically.
“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
But election experts say there’s no evidence to support claims that increased voting by mail favors Democrats.
“The data does not support the rhetoric,” said Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund and former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department.
“When you look at the states that have had a lot of voting by mail for a long time, they elect members of both parties,” Patrick said. She pointed to two of the five states that conduct their elections entirely by mail: Utah and Colorado. Utah is a solid red state, while Colorado is purple.
A study of Colorado’s all-mail election in 2014 found that Republicans outperformed their predicted turnout in 2014 by a slightly higher margin than did Democrats. In that election, Republican Cory Gardner defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republicans won three of the four other statewide races that fall.
‘Voting by mail has always been very bipartisan’
In deep red Yavapai County — the bulk of which is in Gosar’s 4th District — more than 80% of voters are on the Permanent Early Voter List, the county recorder’s office tweeted in early June. In 2016, 63% of voters in the county voted for Trump.
Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman told Stateline in April that opposition to mail-in voting from Republicans in the state and federal governments is “totally political. … It has nothing to do with cost savings or the safety of poll workers.”
Gosar isn’t the only Arizona Republican politician who has stepped up criticisms of voting by mail lately.
Republican state Rep. Bret Roberts in April tweeted a document showing that he had removed himself from Arizona’s permanent early voting list.
The partisan divide over main-in voting in Arizona is relatively recent, said Joel Edman, executive director of the voting rights advocacy group Arizona Advocacy Network.
“The idea of voting by mail has always been very bipartisan,” he said, noting that the divide deepened when Trump started publicly criticizing efforts to expand vote by mail.
Arizona first started offering “absentee” early voting in the 1980 election, the Arizona Capitol Times reported. But voters at the time needed a reason, like being out of town or being over the age of 65.
In 1997, the state changed its process to allow early voting for any reason; in 2007 the state established the permanent early voting list.
“It made it efficient,” said Patrick of the Democracy Fund, noting that election officials in Arizona were among the most vocal advocates of the list. “Why make [voters] jump through all these hoops for every election?”