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Duplicate ballots? Here’s how we stop them, election officials say

By Mark Shenefelt - | Dec 3, 2021

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

Weber County Elections Office Director Ryan Cowley poses for a portrait on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in the elections office. Cowley defends mail-in voting, a process Utah has been using for years but has surfaced as a controversial national conversation.

Against a politically charged landscape of ballot security controversy, local elections officials are happy to detail the procedures they use to stop anyone from trying to vote twice.

“The voter registration database is statewide, so you can only be registered one time,” Weber County elections director Ryan Cowley said Friday. “And then, every voter can have one active mail ballot at one time.”

Tales of people receiving multiple election ballots are among the justifications cited by Utah legislators who recently signed on to support a national drive for a 50-state forensic election audit, removal of electors in any states with problems and convening of the U.S. House to overturn the 2020 election win of President Joe Biden.

GOP Reps. Mike Schultz of Hooper, the new Utah House majority leader, and Mike Petersen of North Logan said they had relatives who received duplicated ballots and that made them question Utah election security.

If a voter moves from Weber or Davis county, or vice versa, and then gets a ballot from each county, one of the ballots would be rejected because the statewide database would flag it, Cowley said. If someone tried to vote with both ballots, that’s fraudulent and only one vote would be counted in any case.

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner

Davis County Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch is pictured in his Farmington office Aug. 4, 2017.

Another scenario mentioned by a lawmaker is that of a relative who moved to Texas but was still receiving ballots at his parents’ home in Utah. Cowley said Utah and Texas participate in a database check program that flags duplicate registrations.

Plus, said Cowley and Davis County Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch, it’s the voter’s responsibility to update his or her voter registration. And because of vote by mail, which began in Utah nine years ago, “we have the cleanest voter rolls in the history of Utah,” Koch said.

“In the pillars of election security, there is a role for citizens,” Koch said. “That’s why we have poll watchers, the campaigns themselves, the political parties and the media. With all the pillars, we have an extremely safe and secure election system.”

Asked about situations involving multiple ballots, Koch outlined procedures that thwart any fraudulent voting.

In the case of someone deciding to update their party affiliation after ballots are mailed out three weeks before the election, that means the person gets a new ballot. “Every ballot that goes out has a unique ID for each individual,” he said. “When the person went in and updated their voter registration, we went in and spoiled the first ballot.”

If the person mailed in the first ballot and tried to submit the second one as well, “Then we ask them, ‘Why are you trying to vote both ballots?’ We’re happy to turn them over for prosecution.”

Koch said that underscores the importance of the live, real-time database.

A second scenario: A person submits a ballot in a drop box outside a polling place and then goes inside, shows ID and requests another ballot, then votes a second time. “The second you do that, the system is updated and we’re going to know you’ve already voted, and it’s going to kick out” one of the two.

The counties also get change of address notifications from the postal system, as well as vital records updates when people die. If someone tries to cast a dead person’s ballot, they will be tripped up with multiple-level signature verification, Koch said.

Those who attempt to “game the system should bear the consequences of that gaming,” Koch said.

Cowley said each ballot carries an affidavit of legitimacy that the voter must sign. “If he’s not a qualified voter in the county that he’s voting, he’s committing fraud,” Cowley said.

Weber County has made numerous refinements to vote-by-mail processes, and state initiatives have included updated driver license records being applied to the voter database, Cowley said. Voters now also can sign up for alerts to track their ballot, he said.

Koch said people who have questions about election processes should call their county clerk’s office. “We will welcome them with open arms,” he said. He invited voters to tour the elections offices to get up to speed on election security.


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