FactCheck: Viral video spouts baseless claim about Arizona early voting
Millions of Arizona voters requested ballots to vote early in the 2022 election. Early voting results cannot be released until after the election, and ballot security measures prevent widespread voter fraud. Yet a viral video advises Republicans not to vote early, making the baseless claim that it could show Democrats how many votes they need “to fake” to win.
Early voting in Arizona began on Oct. 12, with more than 3 million voters requesting mail-in ballots or in-person early voting for the 2022 election.
More than half of Arizona voters, or 57%, said they will vote by mail or absentee ballot, 10% will vote at an early voting location, and 32% plan to vote on Election Day, according to the Marist Poll.
The poll also found that about 72% of Democrats and 53% of independents said they plan to vote by mail or absentee ballot, while only 46% of Republicans said they will vote that way.
Conservative personality and author Lindsey Graham, also known as Patriot Barbie — not to be confused with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — posted an Instagram reel on Oct. 23 advising Arizona Republicans not to vote early. She makes the baseless claim that voting early could show Democrats how many votes they will have “to fake” to win the election.
Data is available on the number of mail ballots requested and returned in Arizona by party registration. As of Oct. 31, the percentage of mail ballots cast by registered Democrats (39.8%) is slightly higher than those from registered Republicans (37%) and from voters who are unaffiliated or registered with third parties (23.2%), according to the U.S. Elections Project.
Arizona law, however, prohibits the release of early voting results until all precincts have reported their results or one hour after polls close on Election Day. Doing so is a felony.
In addition, Arizona has measures in place to ensure the security of early ballots and the tabulation process.
In the video, Graham focuses on the close gubernatorial race between Republican Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor, and Democrat Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state.
“Arizona voters. This is why you vote in person. This is why you do not mail in your vote. This is why you do not vote early,” Graham says in the video. “I will say that when you vote early, I’m not making any accusations, but it does give the opposition the ability to say, ‘Hmm looks like, for example, Kari Lake has 2 million early voters. How many voters would we need to fake to catch up to that and surpass it?’ Just saying. Not making any accusations,” Graham says in the video.
Graham shows a graphic of the “chain of custody” of a ballot. She says early voting and mail-in ballots go through six custody transfers before the vote is counted, while in-person votes go from the ballot being cast directly to being counted. She ends the video by saying, “This is why you vote in person on Election Day. Are we clear? Less opportunity for, oh, I don’t know, cheating.”
Graham’s video has received more than 52,000 views and 6,000 likes on Instagram.
But her claim that either party could determine how many votes were needed “to fake to catch up” is unfounded.
When votes are tabulated
Although the number of mail and absentee ballots requested and returned is publicly available by party registration in Arizona and many other states, it’s not possible to know how many votes were actually cast for each candidate until after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Arizona’s election law says counting absentee or mail-in ballots can begin immediately after they have gone through processing and been delivered to the early election board.
But the law states, “In no event shall partial or complete tallies of the early election board be released or divulged before all precincts have reported or one hour after the closing of the polls on election day, whichever occurs first, and any person who unlawfully releases information regarding vote tallies or who possesses a tally sheet or summary without authorization from the recorder or officer in charge of elections is guilty of a class 6 felony.”
Ballot safety and security in Arizona
Following the 2020 presidential election, a spotlight fell on Arizona, as former President Donald Trump and other Republicans baselessly cited voter fraud as the reason for Trump’s loss in the state. An audit of ballots and a forensic audit of voting equipment were conducted in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county. The audits found no evidence of fraud and confirmed that Joe Biden had won in Arizona.
Republican claims of voter fraud continue, but Arizona has several levels of protection in place to ensure the safety and validity of mail-in ballots and the voting process.
Matthew Roberts, communications manager for the Maricopa County Elections Department, told us in an email that the countyhas “comprehensive policies and procedures that guard against votes being illegally cast.”
“Voting by mail is secure. Only registered voters may request a ballot in the mail,” Roberts said. “Each Maricopa County ballot is individually verified regardless of whether it is cast in-person at a Vote Center, or returned by mail. Only verified ballots are counted.”
“When it comes to casting a ballot by mail, Maricopa County has internal controls and tracking methods for ballot security beginning from when the ballot is initially mailed, to how voted ballots are transported from the post office to onsite security and more,” Roberts said.
“Maricopa County performs multiple audit checks before and after ballots are tabulated,” Roberts added. “All ballot affidavit envelopes require a signature that is compared against a known signature on the official voter registration file when received.”
In order to receive a ballot-by-mail in Arizona, registered voters can either sign up for the Active Early Voting List or make a one-time request for a ballot.
Sophia Solis, communications director for the Arizona Secretary of State, told us in an email, “Each ballot has a barcode associated with a voter, which tracks the ballot from when it is printed, to when it is completed and returned to the county elections department.”
A 2020 presentation by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office says the state’s election security measures include paper trails for voting audits that verify each voter, keeping election systems unconnected to the internet, and conducting hand-count audits.
In her Instagram video, Graham said that in-person votes are counted directly after being cast.
But that depends on the county in Arizona. For both in-person ballots and early voting ballots, the voter’s identity is verified before the ballot is counted, according to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which was established by state voters in 1998 “to improve the integrity of Arizona state government and promote public confidence in the Arizona political process.”
Eight of 15 counties in Arizona use a “central count” method, while the other seven use a “precinct tabulation” method, according to information provided to us by Solis. In a “central count,” votes are transported back to a location used to count the ballots. In “precinct tabulation” counties, voters or poll workers run the ballot through a tabulation machine that saves the vote counts to a removable media device inside the machine, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission explains.
When the votes from the “central count” counties arrive at their location for counting, the votes and the poll workers are placed under a 24/7 live stream that monitors the actions in the room, which is required by law.
The vote counts saved on a tabulation machine in a “precinct tabulation” county are transmitted to the central count location, where an election official loads the results into “the secure election management system and aggregates the vote totals for all voting locations,” according to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Solis said the “tabulation process has numerous safeguards and audit mechanisms to ensure that results are accurate with how a voter casts their ballot.”