Voting by mail in Arizona: How it works, and how it doesn’t

Voting by mail has become a hot button issue this election cycle and millions of Americans, including in Arizona, are planning to vote by mail this November — some for the first time ever, as the coronavirus pandemic remains widespread. 

The sudden interest in voting by mail due to the pandemic has led to a variety of conspiracy theories and attacks, the most prominent of which have come from President Donald Trump

Other vocal critics of vote by mail, such as Arizona U.S. Rep Paul Gosar, have in fact voted by mail themselves.

Arizona has been doing vote by mail successfully for nearly 30 years, and nearly 80% of the votes cast in the 2018 general election were cast by mail-in ballots.

“There’s folklore out there, there’s misinformation,” Reynaldo Valenzuela, director of elections for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, said. “When people say that everybody gets a ballot and they’re all mailed, that’s not true — that’s folklore.” 

Voters in Arizona can only get a ballot mailed to them if they request one. Voters must ask for an early ballot no later than Oct. 23, and it must be returned to election officials by Election Day. 

Voters can also sign up for what is called the Permanent Early Voter List, which means they will be mailed an early ballot for every election. 

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office recommends mailing ballots by Oct. 27 in order to make sure they arrive in time to be counted. 

“Fraud overall in elections is extremely, extremely minimal,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said. 

In fact, in Arizona there have been approximately 30 cases of criminal voter fraud since 2010, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In that same time period over 13 million votes have been cast. 

One piece of “folklore” Valenzuela said that he’d like to dispel is the idea that ballots sent to deceased voters are being voted fraudulently in Arizona. 

“All you need to do is write ‘Return to Sender, not at this address,’” Valenzuela said, adding that elections officials already check every ballot against state death records. “We will then do the investigation, because maybe the individual was so mean and terrible to die out of state and we don’t have that, but we will then do our due diligence with all the other states.” 

Hobbs says that her office hasn’t seen any of the issues that some have been sounding alarms about online. 

“I haven’t seen anything that people are out there saying happens actually reported to elections officials,” Hobbs said, adding that if people are seeing these things happen they should report them to the Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit immediately.