But national GOP leaders denounced the practice Monday as part of a Democratic plot to use coronavirus scares to alter elections in ways that could increase fraud.
They vowed to fight voting by mail and other election proposals they dislike with a $20 million legal fund.
“A national vote-by-mail system would open the door to a new set of problems, such as potential election fraud,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, the niece of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “At this time of uncertainty, we need to have faith in our election process.”
McDaniel and other GOP officials used a conference call Monday to reporters to outline problems they see with voting by mail, a system their Utah Republican colleagues have long praised.
They complained that a Nevada county clerk sent ballots not only to active voters, but also “inactive voters” — who either had not voted in several elections or whom the U.S. Postal Service reported as likely moved — causing thousands of unused ballots to be in circulation. (Utah and other states voting primarily by mail send ballots only to active voters.)
“That obviously leaves room for fraud,” McDaniel said.
She said, “If voters want to vote by mail, absentee ballots should be requested by the voter and not automatically sent by the state to every voter on the registration rolls” — to decrease potential by fraud with extra ballots.
McDaniel also said fraud could come if states accept ballots after Election Day — which Utah does, as long as they were postmarked before that day. Utah also verifies signatures on ballots to help ensure the proper person voted.
McDaniel said not enough time exists to set up reliable vote-by-mail systems this year in states that have not used them previously. She worried it could also lead to allowing in some states party volunteers to collect ballots in places such as nursing homes to submit them en masse.
“It also doesn’t give voters who may not want to vote by mail the opportunity to vote in person,” she said. “We have many voters who don’t want to vote by mail. They don’t trust that. So they need to have that in-person option.”
Utah normally also allows people to vote in person at Election Day voting centers. But for the June 30 primary, the Legislature enacted a law that will allow only voting by mail or at drive-up voting centers where ballots may be dropped off. Procedures for the Nov. 3 general election are yet to be finalized.
Utah officials for years have praised voting by mail and said they have seen it cause no extra fraud.
Cox has said that by-mail voting also appeared to improve voter education “because they actually have the ballot, and they have the opportunity to research what is on the ballot — instead of just getting in the ballot booth and finding out there are three constitutional amendments they had never heard of.”
Democratic Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen on Monday also praised voting by mail and the increased turnout she says resulted from it.
“In the 2018 general election, we had almost 80% turnout in a midterm election. You would not see that kind of voter participation with the traditional polling places where people had to go on a certain day between certain hours,” she said. “Definitely we’ve seen an increase in voter turnout with the convenience of vote by mail.”