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Weber County rushed to get cameras in place to satisfy Utah’s new drop box law

Ballot drop boxes outside Vivant Arena on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
Renee Bright
Ballot drop boxes outside Vivant Arena on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

The Utah Legislature’s passing of HB 313 requires all unattended ballot drop boxes to have video surveillance.

It is an attempt to ease concerns about voting fraud. However, there could be unintended consequences.

The legislation did not have a date when cameras needed to be in place, but many counties went to great lengths to install them before ballots were mailed out for the June 28 primary. For example, Weber County installed surveillance cameras at all 21 of their drop boxes before they were unlocked.

Lauren Shafer, director of the county’s elections office, hopes the cameras ease fears of voter fraud. They are a good tool, she said, to ensure election and safety laws are being followed — even though they have never had any instances of fraud.

“I don’t anticipate any issues, but I think they’re really good now to just continue to be transparent, secure and show our community that we’re doing the best we can,” Shafer said.

She explained the elections office is going above and beyond to make the public feel confident in their work. However, there could be negative consequences to having surveillance at every drop box.

“A big piece of our concern was that this would be a burden to counties that could incentivize them to essentially put in less drop boxes, which we never want to see because that will limit voter access,” said Nikila Venugopal of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

She believes the cameras could be problematic to install in rural areas, which would prevent them from having their own designated drop box.

What’s on the video could also be an issue.

If someone drops off multiple ballots for their family, they might look suspicious even though they aren’t doing anything wrong.

Some lawmakers had this concern too. Even though the county clerk could reach out to the family and confirm the ballots are valid, the video still exists. It could be taken and spread as proof of ballot stuffing.

All these potential consequences exist, yet research from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that voter fraud is very rare and voter impersonations are virtually nonexistent. Further, many instances of fraud are actually mistakes by voters or administrators. The same is true for mail ballots.

Utah voters can return their primary ballots at any drop box up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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