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Utah’s Outgoing Elections Director Reflects On Frustrations Of 2020 Presidential Election

Photo of ballot envelope.
Renee Bright / KUER
Outgoing Utah Elections Director Justin Lee helped the state complete its transition to mail-in voting during his tenure.

When Justin Lee stepped into his position as Utah’s elections director in 2017, he said his main role was pretty straightforward.

“The big goal is always just to make sure elections happen,” Lee said.

He also wanted to help Utah complete its transition to vote by mail as well as updating counties’ voting equipment, which he did.

But he said his responsibilities changed recently with the false narrative around voter fraud.

“It is on the election officials to go and explain how the process works,” he said. “To explain that it is safe, that it is secure, that the vote totals are what the vote totals really are — and that those certified vote totals are, in fact, accurate.”

Lee said he would’ve been happy to do the same for elected officials who publicly questioned the election results.

Last December, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes signed onto a national lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s win. The following month, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-UT, and Rep. Burgess Owens, R-UT, both voted against certifying the election results.

“It's always frustrating when somebody could give you a call, and you could give them an answer, and they don't,” Lee said. “Our elected officials should be talking to the election officials in the state about how things work. The more we can get them to understand the process from front to back, I think we'll have less belief in some of the theories out there about why it didn't go well.”

With Lee stepping down, it’s up to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson to fill the position. One of her responsibilities is overseeing elections.

She said trust in the voting process — and voter access — is important to her as she looks for a new director.

“We've got to have fair, secure, safe elections that people can have confidence in,” Henderson said. “But that doesn't mean that we have to make it so it's harder to vote. I have to make sure that the next person who comes in this role shares that vision.”

Henderson said a national search for a new director will start soon. She said she hopes to have the position filled in a couple months.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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