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Utah guarantees a secret ballot so there’s a line to how much can be revealed

Brian Albers

With Election Day less than a week away, some local politicians are calling for the Legislature to grant counties more flexibility in how elections are certified.

The Utah County Commission held a Nov. 2 work session about the election verification process and what the county can — and can’t — do to ensure there has not been any voter fraud.

Some have continued to question the election process following allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election. Several lawsuits and investigations since that election have failed to yield evidence of fraud or tampering. Former President Donald Trump's own attorney general and election officials have stated that the 2020 election was free, fair and secure. Both Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson have consistently spoken out about the security of Utah’s mail-in and in-person voting.

Elections in Utah are run at the county level. A county’s ability to examine election results is limited after an official canvass certifies the vote, which must be done no later than 14 days after an election.

But some local leaders want to see changes.

“I would hope that the state Legislature would have enough guts or enough questions that are out there to start looking through our election code and modernizing it and bringing it up,” said Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee. “Maybe looking at different states and what they're doing. Why not?”

In the name of transparency, Lee has also advocated for public access to something called the “cast vote record” — which records how and when each ballot is cast.

But there are concerns that the cast vote record could be used to identify how individuals vote. That would violate the Utah Constitution, which guarantees the right to a secret ballot.

“In some cases, you could certainly triangulate the identity of a voter,” said Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels. “And so that's one concern. But, you know, that's at odds with the idea of transparency, of wanting maybe more data, more detailed information about the election and the election data.”

South Salt Lake Councilmember and Vice-Chair of the Utah Democratic Black Caucus Natalie Pinkney doesn’t buy into the argument that public access to that data would increase transparency.

“I’ve knocked a lot of doors where people are even scared because they don’t realize that their voter registration information is public,” she said. “For your actual vote to then become public, I feel like you could be really targeted in a lot of ways … I don’t even think it’s really transparency. I think it’s really an invasion of privacy where we already have that level of transparency.”

The Utah Legislature passed severalelection security bills during the 2022 session, including one that requires counties to post more ballot count data online.

“We've just made some incremental changes in the past year and a half, especially this past year,” said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. “There's a legislative audit that's going on right now, and we'll see the results of those in the coming months and take any of the recommendations that they might have.”

The 2023 general session of the Utah Legislature, when changes could be made to election policy, begins Jan. 18.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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