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Romney breaks with Trump's criticism of mail-in voting

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Romney: Founders didn't intend pardons to be used for 'cronies' MORE (R-Utah) defended mail-in voting on Friday amid criticism from President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE, saying states should get funds to help bolster their election systems to better handle mail-in ballots.

Romney, during an interview with the Sutherland Institute, was asked if he agreed with Trump's claims — presented without evidence — that voting by mail increases voter fraud. 

"I don't know of any evidence that voting by mail would increase voter fraud," Romney responded. "My biggest concern, frankly, with regards to voting fraud has been that there would be some kind of hacking of our voting electronic systems, and that voting machines or tabulating equipment would be hacked."

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Romney added it was "essential" that people who want to vote are able to vote.

"That's more important than even the outcome of the vote. We have got to preserve the principle of democracy or the trend we're on is going to continue to get worse," he said.

"When politicians attack a judicial system, attack a voting system ... attack a free press, these things threaten the foundation upon which not only our own democracy rests but democracies around the world rest," he added.

The Utah Republican is a vocal critic of Trump though he didn't mention the president by name in his answer Friday.

Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting across the country, despite voting by mail in the Florida presidential primary earlier this year.

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Last month the president tweeted that "mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History!" He later shifted to encourage voters in Florida, a battleground state he won in 2016, to vote by mail.

Experts say there is little meaningful fraud associated with mail ballots. Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpNational Archives launches official Trump presidential library online Trump extended Secret Service protection for family members in final days in office: report Harris, Emhoff bid Pences farewell from Capitol steps MORE have both requested mail-in ballots for the upcoming Florida primaries despite the president's frequent criticism. 

The fight over mail-in voting comes as election officials are expecting voters to rely more heavily on mail ballots in November due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to fewer polling places and raised concerns about at-risk individuals casting ballots in person.

Romney, in the question-and-answer on Friday, said that he would "prefer" the government provided "additional funds to states that don't have as effective voting systems as we do here in Utah for voting by mail."

Democrats want to provide $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service and $3.6 billion to help states carry out elections during the pandemic — such as expanding early in-person voting or mail-in voting — as part of a fifth coronavirus relief bill. Negotiations on the package have been stalled for roughly a week after talks collapsed between key negotiators. 

Trump said on Thursday that he would approve billions in funding for USPS as part of the bill if Democrats would compromise on some GOP priorities.