Fact-check: Republican Arizona secretary of state candidate aims to end mail-in voting option for millions – Politifact

If your time is short

  • Arizona Republican secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem backs absentee voting only for people who physically can’t make it to the polls.
  • He introduced a bill, which ultimately did not pass, that would allow voting by mail only in a few circumstances.
  • The bill would have eliminated an early and mail-in voting option that does not require any excuse that is used by millions of voters.

Election rules have become the central issue in the race for Arizona secretary of state. In a recent debate, Democrat Adrian Fontes said Republican Mark Finchem wants to make it harder for many Arizonans to cast their ballots.

“Mr. Finchem wants to strip Arizona’s citizens of their capacity to vote by mail,” Fontes said in the Sept. 22 debate on Arizona PBS.

Finchem rejected the charge.

“I support absentee ballot voting,” Finchem said. “I do not support the idea of sending ballots to people who have not requested it.”

We examined Finchem’s legislative record and found that changes he has backed would have altered the voting options for millions of Arizonans.

Early and mail-in voting widely used in Arizona

More than 20 years ago, the state was an early adopter in allowing people to vote by mail without providing specific excuses, such as being out of state. In 2007, the state built on that policy by giving voters the option to put their names on a permanent early voter list. The state would automatically send these voters a ballot each election. They could either return their ballot by mail or put it in an early voting ballot box in a designated voting center.

In 2021, the state tightened the rules and created what it now called the Active Early Voter List. Voters who failed to vote at least once in two consecutive two-year election cycles would fall off that list.

According to the nonpartisan Clean Elections Commission, in the 2020 election, 89% of ballots in Arizona were cast by mail or drop box. That represented more than 3 million votes.

state-by-state analysis of methods of voting in 2016 by the Pew Research Center found that Arizona led the country with the most ballots cast by mail in states that offered “no-excuse” absentee voting.

“Mr. Finchem has been a vocal opponent of no-excuse mail-in voting and sponsored a bill this year to get rid of it – among other election changes,” said Paul Bentz, senior vice president at HighGround, a political consulting group with ties to the Republican Party.

Finchem was one of 13 Arizona House Republicans who introduced HB 2596 early in 2022. Although the bill did not pass, one clause would have repealed the Active Early Voter List. Arizonans without a specific reason for voting by mail would no longer have had that option.

Paul Bender, a law professor at Arizona State University School of Law, said the bill also would have strictly restricted absentee voting.

“Finchem would permit mail-in voting only if the voter is out of state or otherwise unable to go to the polls to vote,” Bender said.

The exceptions included people with visual challenges, and those with physical impairments that have put them in the hospital or in a nursing home, and those serving out of state in the military.

In the debate, Finchem said “I don’t care for mail-in voting. I prefer absentee voting.”

He is a member of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, a group that lists eliminating mail-in ballots as one of its goals. During a July campaign speech, Finchem said, “I don’t believe in mail-in ballots at all. That’s where the fraud happens.”

We reached out to Finchem and did not hear back.

Our ruling

Fontes said that Finchem “wants to strip Arizona’s citizens of their capacity to vote by mail.”

Arizona allows people to vote early by mail without citing a specific reason for doing so. In the 2020 election, 89% of ballots were cast by mail or drop box.

Finchem co-sponsored a bill to limit who could vote by mail and to revoke the active early voter list. People on that list automatically receive a mail ballot if they’ve voted at least once in two consecutive two-year election cycles.

While Finchem supports voting by mail for select groups of people, his efforts aim to eliminate that option for many Arizonans.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

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