County Clerks show Mail-in ballots are safe
Is there any truth to mail-in ballot myths?
Secure Vote Utah initiative leaders believe in-person voting is safest, but county clerks say otherwise.
Utah initiative leaders believe in-person voting is safest, but county clerks say otherwise.
The Salt Lake Tribune
4 Feb 2022
By KAITLYN BANCROFT
CHRIS SAMUELS | The Salt Lake TribuneDavis County elections director Brian McKenzie gives a tour of the county ballot processing room in Farmington on Tuesday.
No question is off limits. That’s what Brian McKenzie tells people when he takes them through the Davis County Clerk/Auditor Office, where he serves as a deputy clerk. McKenzie is willing to explain the ins and outs of mail-in voting to everyone from federal and state authorities to ordinary citizens with concerns about election integrity. His team is even working on creating formal open house events, with dates and times to be determined. “They can contact me at any time,” he said. (The number for his office is 801-451-3519.) In his 16 years of working in electio
ns, McKenzie said he has never seen so many fears about fraud as he did during the 2020 presidential election.
That’s why his office has opened itself up for tours: to help people understand how mail-in voting works and why it’s safe. Utah has recently seen a resurgence in the conversation about election integrity as the “Secure Vote Utah” ballot initiative aims to end mail-in balloting in favor of voters casting paper ballots at individual polling places, with those votes being counted on election day. If passed, there would be no more early voting, and casting an absentee ballot would only be allowed under certain circumstances. It would also require every precinct to have a polling location, which would raise the required costs for contracting polling places and recruiting and training poll workers. The hefty price tag comes out to $36.8 million in one-time costs and another $19.2 million every year thereafter, according to the initiative’s fiscal note. Several county clerks have estimated that the change would make elections three times more expensive in Utah and require 10 times as many polling locations. Secure Vote Utah backers have a tall order ahead of them before they even get to that point. They have only until Feb. 15 to collect 137,929 signatures from registered voters across the state. They must also meet signature thresholds in 26 of Utah’s 29 Senate districts. Lew Moore, director of Secure Vote Utah, did not return a request for comment for this story, but told The Salt Lake Tribune in December that “In-person voting is much more secure than mail-in ballots.” Moore, who was the national campaign manager for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, made it clear he is not making any allegations about irregularities in Utah’s elections. “Paper ballots are much more secure than sending a ballot through the mail. I’m not alleging any specific problem about Utah’s elections, but I think we all want to make sure elections are as secure as possible,” Moore said. But McKenzie disagrees. “We have had people coming into the state … and making claims about what may or may not have happened in Utah,” he said. “As I’ve looked into those claims, they’re not true.” Fact check No.1: Dead people, prisoners and non-citizens don’t get ballots McKenzie addressed a number of common myths surrounding mail-in voting. For instance, a ballot is very unlikely to be issued to a deceased person, he said, because the voter registration system is regularly updated by the Department of Vital Records and Statistics and the Department of Public Safety. Additionally, a ballot is unlikely to go to someone who is incarcerated because the system receives updates from the state’s prisons; and McKenzie said while laws differ from state to state, voters in Utah must be U.S. citizens. His office is also careful when someone wants to update their voter registration. On top of checking basics like name, date of birth and driver’s license or social security number, they check addresses against a map to make sure no one is registering from a business or vacant lot, he said. “People often ask ‘What do you do when you’re not running elections?’ This is what we’re doing,” he said. McKenzie acknowledged that no system is perfect and mistakes happen. Occasionally, he said, they get ballots that were issued to dead people. That’s where their staffers come in. Trained by handwriting specialists and by law enforcement, they check each signature one by one against signatures on file and set aside any that don’t pass muster. From there, McKenzie said staffers will contact the voter in question to try to resolve the issue. (Though bear in mind that forging a ballot signature is a criminal offense.) Fact check No. 2: No one can vote more than once McKenzie said the voter registration system is statewide, which allows them to catch duplicate registrations. Additionally, he said Utah is one of about 30 states that participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit which allows states to compare voter registration systems with the intent of identifying duplicate records. Another safeguard against duplicate ballots is the unique barcode assigned to each envelope. If someone were to request a new ballot — maybe they lost or damaged their original one — they delete that person’s barcode from their system and issue them a brand new number. Another scenario: If someone were to photocopy their ballot and submit it 10 times, the barcode would ensure that their vote was only counted once. “It’s really important that we recognize that voter registration isn’t just a pile of data that just sits there,” McKenzie said. “It’s a living, breathing database that is constantly moving, constantly being updated and constantly being checked by a number of staff and a number of systems.” Fact check No. 3: Vote counting machines can’t be hacked by an outside source Another myth McKenzie comes up against is that the technology used to count mail-in votes can somehow be hacked or compromised. However, none of their machines are ever connected to an outside network, he said. A potential hacker would need physical access to the vote counters, which are well protected with locked doors, limited access and security cameras. “There’s nothing that comes in and there’s nothing that goes out of our database without human interaction,” he said. Fact check No. 4: “Rogue clerks” aren’t out to steal elections Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch said a false idea he sometimes hears is that there are “rogue clerks” taking voting matters into their own hands. He can only speak for himself, he said, but he would vouch for any of his fellow clerks. “We are an independent lot. We care about getting things done right,” he said. “I haven’t yet met a candidate that I’d be willing to go to jail for, [and] that includes myself.” His office, he added, has been “begging” people to take tours of their voting facilities so they can speak to anyone with questions about mail-in voting. Call the Weber County Clerk Auditor Office at 801399-8400 to make an appointment. MaKenzie also strongly encouraged anyone with concerns about mail-in voting to meet their local election clerks. “This is their process. It belongs to our community,” he said. “So come in and be part of it. Watch it, observe it, ask the questions. And hopefully that will help people build confidence.”