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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Here's What Happens Next After More Than 11,000 Misprinted Ballots Were Sent To Sanpete County Voters

A closeup of a Vote by Mail envelope.
Darylann Elmi/Getty Images/iStockphoto
More than 11,000 ballots arrived in Sanpete County last week missing voter affidavits and signatures lines — both of which are required for the ballots to count.

Sanpete County election officials first suspected something was wrong with their ballots last Tuesday. That’s when the phone calls started pouring in.

“We first thought it was a fluke. Maybe one ballot,” said Sandy Neill, who has been the Sanpete County Clerk for the past 13 years. “Then the phone went off the wall.”Neill estimates that her office has received more than 1,000 phone calls from voters since then, all reporting the same issue: their ballots were missing voter affidavits and a place for them to sign.

A ballot needs both of those elements to be counted, according to Utah state law. Both Neill and state elections officials said [the] fault lies with the California-based printing company, Integrated Voting Systems, which sent out more than 11,000 misprinted ballots to Sanpete County last week. “They fessed up to it and said, ‘Whoops, that was our mistake,” said Neill, referring to the printing company.

Integrated Voting Systems did not respond to KUER’s request for comment about the incident, but the company has a track record of bungling ballots, according to reporting this week in The Salt Lake Tribune. To remedy the situation, IVS has sent out postcards to all affected voters in Sanpete County. Those cards can be signed and sent into the county clerk’s office and they will be added to the misprinted ballots to make the votes count, Neill said. She added her office will use voter registration information to contact any voter who sends in a ballot without a signature. In addition to the postcards, residents will have the option of providing their signatures in person or using a special software provided by the state.

But according to TJ Ellerbeck, the executive director of the Rural Utah Project, more needs to be done to ensure that every ballot cast in Sanpete County gets counted. Ellerbeck’s organization focuses on civic engagement and voter registration off the Wasatch Front and he said there will inevitably be voters who fall through the cracks, despite the best clerk’s office’s best efforts.“There are people who have changed their phone numbers and the clerk’s office can’t call them,” Ellerbeck said. “Or there are people who check their mail once a month and received their ballot and aren’t going to receive the additional postcard.

“There are going to be voters who think they’ve done everything they need to do by filling out and returning their ballot, and I’d like to make sure that … their vote actually gets counted,” he added. Ellerbeck said the Rural Utah Project is circulating a letter calling on the Sanpete County Clerk’s Office to find a way to count ballots returned without additional verification because of the misprinting error.

But that might not be a viable option.

Counting unverified ballots is not possible under Utah State Code, but it’s not cause for alarm, said the state’s election director, Justin Lee.

“It’s never a good thing when something goes wrong with the ballots,” Lee said. “But it’s also one of the reasons why we send out ballots several weeks in advance, so if there’s any issues, we have time to cure them.”

He added the state has dealt with larger ballot issues in the past and there is still plenty of time for Sanpete County to resolve the problem.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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