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Want to combat election misinformation? Davis County meets with voters face-to-face

A Davis County ballot scanner on Sept. 14, 2022.
Saige Miller
A Davis County ballot scanner on Sept. 14, 2022.

For years, Utahns seemed to trust the election process. If there were concerns, especially in close races, Utah’s Director of Elections Ryan Cowley said election officials would walk voters through the results. Once that all was explained, Cowley noted people generally accepted the race and moved on.

That started to change with the election between former President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Cowley said he saw warning signs then of people across all political ideologies doubting the system.

“We had the people that were [saying] ‘Not my president.’ We saw people protesting in the streets,” he said. “We saw that escalate in 2020. So it's really coming from all sides.”

It’s especially seen on the frontlines at the local level. Davis County Clerk Chief Deputy Brian McKenzie has been in the election arena for more than a decade. Like Cowley, he said questions used to be settled pretty easily.

But that changed following the 2020 election.

“There was a lot of questions that people had about election security and election integrity,” McKenzie said. “We did have a number of people call us and express their concerns or their doubts.”

To ease the election woes and bolster confidence in the system, the Davis County Clerk’s Office started holding monthly Secure Elections Town Hall and Tour meetings. For McKenzie, it’s a way to engage with voters and have them experience how elections are run for themselves. Attendees even get to see the physical space where ballots are counted and processed.

“Our response to anybody who has questions or doubts is come and learn for yourself,” he said. “There's no question off limits.”

The first few meetings, which started back in January 2022, were a big success, McKenzie said. They had a robust turnout, residents engaged in lively discussions and the office was able to answer their questions. So, they decided to keep hosting them.

Each meeting addresses a different topic around elections. On one particular day in mid-September, McKenzie discussed how the county maintains voter rolls.

During the presentation, McKenzie debunked the false notions that dead people or animals are able to cast votes. He said the county frequently clears and updates the voter rolls, and if a registered voter dies, the county has five days to remove their name.

Utah is one of the founders of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nationwide program that allows voter information to be shared with the purpose of weeding out duplicate voters.

“This program allows us to identify people who are registered in another state,” McKenzie said.

Records from the U.S. Postal Service and Utah’s Drivers License Division also contribute to keeping accurate voter records.

McKenzie then walked through the purpose of each machine and what security measures were in place.

No machine that interacts with ballots is ever connected to the internet. There are personalized barcodes on all ballots to ensure every vote is counted. That same barcode notifies election workers if someone has tried to vote twice or if the ballot has already been processed.

Each voting machine also has special locks, and if there is evidence of tampering, they remove the machine and investigate the situation. They also have citizen audits of the voting machines where a Davis County voter tests the machines in front of the public.

At least two people will always be with ballots in the county — they will never be left alone with just one person. They also have a signature verification area where experts check to see if the signature on the ballot matches the voter. If they suspect it to be forged, they contact the voter.

McKenzie said having Utahns witness the process themselves and how seriously election workers take voter security has had a positive impact on the community.

“When a person has come into our office and maybe they were somewhat skeptical and they leave our office with gratitude for the time that we spent,” he said, “and they leave with a greater appreciation of what we do to safeguard their vote.”

As it stands right now, Davis County has a combined County Clerk and Auditor. That will soon change. Since the county is growing, the county council voted to separate the two positions. McKenzie is on the ballot in November for County Clerk but is running unopposed.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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