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Davis County moves to improve vote by mail processing capacity

By Mark Shenefelt - | Oct 28, 2021

Photo supplied, Davis County Clerk-Auditor's Office

Davis County municipal election ballots, ready to be mailed out to voters, are seen Oct. 8, 2021.

FARMINGTON — While some Utah legislators say they want to junk Utah’s vote-by-mail system, local elections officials are moving forward with plans to improve speed and efficiency and tell their story of ballot security.

The Davis County Commission heard Tuesday about negotiations between the county clerk-auditor’s office and Runbeck Elections Services for a new, higher capacity mail ballot verifier machine. The existing machine, several years old, struggled to keep up with ballots in the 2020 general election.

“We found that was our bottleneck,” Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch said in an interview. The county processed 179,000 ballots in that election.

The planned new machine goes for about $270,000 and is similar to the one used by Weber County, Koch said. The funds come from the state for elections infrastructure projects.

The machine scans ballot signatures and does a quick verification, Koch said, but the verifying does not end there. “We still review every signature, person by person,” he said. The verification machine provides an early screening.

Koch and other elections officials around the state, including Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Weber County Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch and Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels, have been broadcasting an open-door policy for residents to review voting processes up close, especially since Reps. Steve Christiansen of West Jordan and Phil Lyman of Blanding last week announced an effort to return the states to paper ballots.

In a legislative hearing, Lyman and Christiansen claimed vote by mail is vulnerable to fraud, echoing one of the chief arguments of other Republican officials around the country to roll back mail voting and other steps taken in recent years to expand voting. Dozens of residents who attended the hearing trooped to the podium to denounce voting by mail, claiming various election fraud conspiracies.

“It’s frustrating because it’s not true, and I will tell that to anybody,” Koch said in the interview.

Koch said he was on the third row at the hearing and witnessed the cries for gutting vote by mail, which Utah helped pioneer several years ago. “People see things on social media and in the media and sometimes they take that as the definite truth,” he said.

For example, he rebutted a popular claim that was made during the hearing, that voting machines are subject to being hacked. “We are confident our elections cannot be hacked as people are talking about, because the machines are not connected to the internet, ever,” he said.

Mail voting as well has given Davis County “the cleanest voter registration database it’s ever had,” Koch said. In addition, Auditing is pervasive, he said, and anyone can attend the public audit at the end of the election cycle.

“I think the way we overcome (security skepticism) is simply to stand up and say come in and see, we have nothing to hide,” Koch said. “There is no silver bullet, but we have layer upon layer upon layer of safeguards to protect our elections and prevent problems.”

He said the 2022 Utah Legislature will be offered a bill, supported by the county clerks, under which the Lieutenant Governor’s Office would conduct random audits in the background of local elections. “We’ll never know of it,” he said.

Koch is a vice chairman on the National Association of Counties’ elections committee, and Weber County’s Hatch is the chairman.


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