PHOENIX – U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivered a broadside attack on mail-in voting Thursday, attacking the process used by many Americans — including the vast majority of Arizonans — as prone to undue influence and coercion.
The Republican also said that mail-in ballots impinge on the historic American tradition of the secret ballot, an attack refuted by Arizona and other states that allow widespread mail-in balloting.
Barr was in Phoenix to announce a crackdown on methamphetamine trafficking that netted $43 million in cash seizures, more than 28,000 pounds of the illicit stimulant, more than 1,800 arrests and the seizure of hundreds of guns. The operation targeted Mexican cartels that smuggled drugs to major U.S. cities and then distributed them nationwide.
But Barr spent the majority of his time answering questions unrelated to the drug busts and instead on the unrest around the nation tied to racial injustice, his department’s intervention in a private lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of defamation and on mail-in voting.
His attack on mail voting focused on efforts by some states, including Nevada, to mail ballots to all registered voters as the coronavirus pandemic creates fears about in-person voting. The Trump campaign is suing to block a law passed by the Democratic-led Legislature in July.
But in many ways his attack was broader, hitting even states like Arizona, which allows anyone to ask for and receive a mail-in ballot. In the August primary, about 90% of voters cast ballots by mail or at early voting centers. About 75% are permanent early voters and receive a mail ballot each election.
His comments follow Trump’s attacks on early voting and his claims without proof that there could be widespread voter fraud in November. That’s despite what officials in Arizona and other states that have relied on mail-in ballots say about the little evidence of fraudulent activity. Multiple studies have also debunked the notion of pervasive voter fraud in general and in the vote-by-mail process.
Barr laid out the traditional American voting method that he said was at risk — one filled with checks and balances and the historic secret ballot. Americans go to a polling place, identify themselves, go into a private voting booth and mark a ballot.
“Those measures have been developed over the years precisely because of concerns of fraud and coercion,” Barr said. “And you can’t sell your vote, no one can intimidate you, no one can buy your vote. And it reduces radically the risk of fraud when you have a secret ballot that’s organized the way we’ve had it organized.”
Barr said voting by mail eliminates all those protections.
“There’s no more secret vote, there’s no secret vote,” he said. “Your name is associated with a particular ballot. The government and the people involved can find out and know how you voted. And it opens up the door to coercion.”
He went on to say voters could be coerced to cast their vote a certain way if they get a mail ballot, and said there might be situations where someone in a nursing home is persuaded to let others fill out their ballot.
“And finally the fact that ballots are mailed out profligately the way they would be, many of them misdirected we know because of inaccuracy of voting lists, there are going to be ballots floating around and collected,” he said. The comment appeared to be aimed at states who want to mail ballots to all voters.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who is the state’s chief election officer, slammed Barr for attacking what is a “decades-long history of secure and reliable ballot-by-mail procedures” in Arizona.
“It is a shame that high-ranking officials are sowing doubt in our democratic institutions.”