A top Trump campaign adviser and lawyer who has criticized voting-by-mail and warned without evidence that it could lead to election fraud previously voted by mail at least three times.
Jenna Ellis voted by mail in Colorado in 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to public records obtained by CNN’s KFile.
Colorado is one of five states that conducts its elections entirely by mail. The state sends a ballot to every registered voter by mail and the voter returns a cast ballot in a signed envelope to their local county clerk’s office. (Voters can also vote in person at the ballot box if they prefer.)
Multiple studies have confirmed that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, including mail voting. One in four votes in the 2018 election were cast with mail-in ballots, and a number of states are gearing up to send mail-in ballots to voters this November, citing safety concern from the coronavirus pandemic.
Ellis joins a growing list of Trump campaign and White House staffers who have publicly criticized mail-in ballots and voting-by-mail but privately cast an absentee or mail-in ballot themselves, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and campaign manager Brad Parscale.
In a statement, Ellis told CNN that Trump is “absolutely right that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud” and pointed to the “horrendous results” in Pennsylvania and New Jersey elections, both of which used mail-in voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Philadelphia, officials identified 40 people who had returned a mail ballot and then also voted in person. The votes were caught in time to prevent double voting and there was no evidence of fraud. In New Jersey, the attorney general charged four people with voting fraud related to a municipal election in May. Both states continue to tally the votes but hundreds of thousands have been cast in each state.
Ellis told CNN, “I live in Colorado, and unfortunately my state is one of only five that are universal vote-by-mail states. Even though President Trump and I agree it is a flawed method of running an election — and I will continue to work to change it — I won’t let that discourage me from exercising my right to vote.”
Ellis, a frequent surrogate for the President, is also the public face of a Trump campaign lawsuit – along with several Republican congressmen and the Republican National Committee – filed against Pennsylvania’s counties over the state’s plans to use mail-in ballots for the general election this November over coronavirus safety concerns.
In a press release, Ellis said, without evidence, that moving toward a vote-by-mail system would create opportunities for fraud.
“Shifting from an absentee voting system to one that pushes unmonitored vote-by-mail creates opportunities for fraud, and encourages ballot harvesting where paid political operatives try to collect and deliver loose ballots. This lawsuit seeks to restore integrity into the process and mandate the ability of campaigns to monitor the casting, collecting, and counting of all votes. Every American, regardless of which candidates they support, should be concerned that our elections remain free and fair.”
Ellis also bashed House Democrats’ proposal to institute universal mail-in ballots for the election. In an op-ed, she claimed that Democrats are trying to use the coronavirus pandemic as “as an excuse and pretext to remove many safeguards for elections” to implement universal mail-in ballots.
“They treat mail-in ballots as a cure-all and make a pitch for the ‘bold democratic reform bill’ offered by the House Democrats in Congress. But what they don’t tell you is that an overnight change to universal mail-in ballots will potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters and that their so-called ‘bold proposals’ are merely an attempt to get more votes for their party,” wrote Ellis and her co-writer, Justin Clark, a senior political adviser to the Trump campaign.
Ellis and Clark were careful to note that “absentee ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on election day” in their op-ed. On Twitter, Ellis voiced support for using an absentee ballot if necessary, but still encouraged in-person voting. “Voting IN PERSON can and will happen in November! If we can stand in line at the grocery store & hardware store, we can stand in line to vote! If you need an absentee ballot, definitely vote that way (like some in DC will have to in home state!), but let’s SHOW UP & VOTE TRUMP!” she wrote.
On Twitter, Ellis frequently differentiated absentee ballots from mail-in ballots, but experts say absentee ballots and mail-in ballots, while distinct terms, are nearly indistinguishable from one another in practice. Absentee ballots are requested by registered voters who cannot otherwise vote in person; mail-in ballots are simply sent through the mail, and can be considered absentee ballots or no-excuse absentee ballots depending on a state’s election laws.
In one tweet, she wrote that the President “schooled reporters” on the difference between “ABSENTEE voting (a registered voter requesting a ballot) vs MAIL-IN plans (sending millions of ballots out into the ether without knowing if a person is dead, moved, etc). ELECTION SECURITY MATTERS!”
In another tweet, she reiterated her definitions, writing, “Thread. Again, this isn’t that complicated of a distinction, folks. Absentee: one voter asks for their own ballot to be mailed to them. Mail-in system: state mails out millions of ballots to unverified addresses and recipients.”
Ellis was not always publicly critical of mail-in ballots, however. In 2018, while Ellis served as the policy director for the conservative Dobson Family Institute, she wrote a blog post encouraging Christians to register to vote and use state voting methods, including mail-in ballots, early voting and day-of voting.
“Finally, we ask you to VOTE on Election Day! Make sure you’re registered properly, and states have options of mail-in ballots, early voting, and day-of voting,” wrote Ellis.