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Utah officials tout election security as ballots hit mailboxes

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 17, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Ryan Cowley, Utah's director of elections, speaks while Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson listens during a town hall in Spanish Fork on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.

OGDEN — With the mailing of ballots set for Tuesday, Utah election officials are doubling down on a common theme — you can trust the vote-processing and vote-counting procedures in the state.

“I think you can expect the same thing we’ve delivered on for years in Utah — a safe and secure election,” said Ryan Cowley, director of elections in the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which oversees voting in the state.

Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch, who oversees voting in the county, noted that 2022 marks the ninth year of mail-in balloting in Utah, launched in 2013, which has given officials plenty of time to adjust the process. “That’s the most important thing to us — security as well as accuracy,” he said.

Numerous spots of significance to Weber County voters are up for grabs this cycle, from the U.S. Senate seat now held by Mike Lee to several seats in the Utah Legislature to several posts on the Ogden and Weber school boards. Campaigning by the varied hopefuls has been ratcheting up and mail-in ballots will be sent to voters starting Tuesday as the election cycle reaches the final stretch.

“People will start seeing them in the mail that day or the next,” said Lauren Shafer, director of the Weber County Elections Office, operated within the county clerk-auditor’s office. Election Day is Nov. 8, when mail-in ballots are due.

Election security has emerged as a particular concern for some, especially since the 2020 elections due to false claims of fraud in U.S. presidential voting by Donald Trump and his backers. Cowley said he’s seen an uptick that dates back to the 2016 presidential vote.

At any rate, he’s a staunch defender of the security of Utah’s system. Over 90% of people typically vote by mail in Utah, Cowley said, with only a fraction casting ballots in-person on Election Day or during early voting.

For one thing, election workers and the top election official in each county, the county clerk/auditor, are locals, not outsiders. “They’re your friends and neighbors,” Cowley said.

Moreover, he cited the decentralized nature of vote counting and processing in Utah, handled not by the state but by officials in each of the state’s 29 counties. That, among many other security measures, serves as a hedge against concerted efforts to defraud the system since there’s no single entry point.

“We don’t count votes at all,” Cowley said, though his office processes results turned in by the counties to generate statewide totals.

Beyond all that, the equipment used to count and process ballots must meet rigorous guidelines and faces testing and auditing, he said.

State lawmakers, too, have been mindful of the ballot-processing jitters of some and implemented new measures during the 2022 legislative session earlier this year in response. Among other things, cameras must be placed at all ballot drop boxes to record activity around them. What’s more, vote-processing steps have been codified into law, including a rule requiring that two election workers handle ballot collection at drop boxes.

Cowley’s office, meantime, has been tasked with auditing a sampling of voter registration forms as a guard against potential irregularities, while individual county clerk/auditor offices have boosted outreach to inform the public about the vote-counting process. “I don’t remember a time in my career when I’ve seen elections as transparent as they have been. It’s been amazing how the clerks have opened up their doors,” Cowley said.

Shafer, director of the Weber County Elections Office, invites the public to call or visit if they have any questions about the process. The office phone number is 801-399-8034.

Here are a few more election details:

  • There are 125,812 active registered voters in Weber County and Shafer’s office is expecting turnout of around 80%, down from 87% in 2018, the last non-presidential federal election year.
  • Drop boxes are located at all city offices around Weber County and the Weber State University campus. Ballots may be left at drop boxes through 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.  If mailed through the U.S Postal Service, ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 7, the Monday before Election Day.
  • The deadline to register to vote and receive a mail-in ballot is Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. For more details, go to the state election website at vote.utah.gov. You can also register on Election Day and vote provisionally.
  • Early in-person voting is scheduled for Nov. 2, 3, 4 and 7 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Weber Center, 2380 Washington Blvd. In-person voting on Election Day, Nov. 8, goes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will be held at the Weber County Fairgrounds, 100 N. 1200 West in Ogden, and at the Ogden Valley Branch library, 131 S. 7400 East in Huntsville.
  • Go to the Weber County Elections Office website at weberelections.gov for more details, including the list of candidates in Weber County.

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