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Love Campaign Asks Judge To Scrutinize Salt Lake Ballots, As McAdams Maintains Razor-Thin Lead

Photo of Mia Love.
Renee Bright / KUER
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Rep. Mia Love on election night.

Lawyers for Rep. Mia Love’s campaign appeared in district court on Thursday to challenge Salt Lake County’s voter verification process, the latest twist in the drawn-out race for Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

The lawsuit comes as Love is trailing Democrat Ben McAdams by about 1,000 votes in the too-close-to-call race.

The Love campaign is asking the court to allow its poll monitors to more closely scrutinize mismatched signatures on ballots in Salt Lake County, where McAdams has led for most of the race.

“The election code’s clear intent and purpose is to ensure the fairness of elections, and that’s the driving principle here,” said Robert Harrington, representing the GOP congresswoman’s campaign.

Image of letter.
Credit Salt Lake County Clerk
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A letter is mailed to voters whose mail-in or provisional ballots have mismatched signatures.

Under Salt Lake County’s current procedures, when a signature on a mail-in ballot envelope does not match the signature in the county’s database, a voter is sent an affidavit to certify their identity.

Harrington argued that the county’s affidavit was insufficient and left off relevant information like the voter’s date of birth, driver’s license or whether they had actually voted at all.

He said the campaign should also have the right to contest the decision whether to count these ballots while the clerk tabulates their votes.

“Does it inure to the fairness of elections to have a poll monitor observe determinations that look to be wrong and actually have absolutely no recourse to address those determinations?” he asked.

But Salt Lake County defended its electoral process and questioned why the Love campaign had waited until votes were being counted to challenge the voter affidavits.

“You can’t put toothpaste back into the tube, and I think this tube is pretty much empty,” said Deputy District Attorney Bridget Romano, representing the county.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she’s sent out roughly 2,250 affidavits to voters with “deficient” ballots, including those with mismatched signatures. Of those, only 878 have been returned. Voters have until next Monday at 5 p.m. to resolve any outstanding issues with their ballots.

 

 

Image of affidavit.
Credit Salt Lake County Clerk
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Voters who receive an affidavit from the county are asked to complete this form and return it to the county clerks office.

Swensen, the county’s Democratic clerk since 1991, said she was surprised by the lawsuit and said it seemed specifically targeted at Salt Lake County, which has used the same affidavit for years.

“I think this is unfair; if they were really going to question it, this same type of affidavit is used throughout the state of Utah — I assure you,” she said.

The McAdams campaign filed a motion Thursday to intervene in the lawsuit. Loren Washburn, an attorney for the campaign, said the challenge was aimed at disenfranchisement.

“The net effect of everything the Love campaign is asking this court to do will be to reduce the number of people whose votes are counted in Salt Lake County,” he said.

Judge James Gardner of the 3rd District Court in West Jordan oversaw Thursday’s proceedings. He expressed some skepticism about the lawsuit’s place and timing.

“Why didn’t you file this same petition in Utah County or the other counties that are involved?” he asked Harrington.

“Time is of the essence, things are happening very quickly, we have limited resources and the reality is that Salt Lake County comprises 85 percent of the congressional district,” replied Harrington.

Gardner said he would issue a ruling soon.

The state’s latest vote tally shows McAdams leading 50.2 percent over Love’s 49.8 percent, a razor-thin lead that could change with another update on Friday from Utah County.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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