Mia Love campaign files lawsuit to stop ballot counting in Salt Lake County

Nov 15, 2018, 11:02 AM
Mia Love Lawsuit: Mia Love, Sherrie Swensen, and Ben McAdams...
From left to right: Rep. Mia Love, Salt Late County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, and candidate Ben McAdams. Love's campaign has filed a lawsuit against Sherrie Swensen to stop the ballot counting for the election between her and McAdams. (Photos courtesy of Deseret News)
(Photos courtesy of Deseret News)

Rep. Mia Love’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, demanding the 3rd District Court stop the Clerk’s office from counting the ballot in Love’s race against Mayor Ben McAdams.

Love’s campaign wants the time and opportunity to examine the signatures on mail-in ballots. Swensen, Love says, has not given her staff the right to dispute Salt Lake County’s judgment. She is suing to get the right to weigh in on which ballots are kept and which are thrown out and invalidated.

The lawsuit has met heavy criticism from a number of groups, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and McAdams himself, who says that the move “smacks of desperation.”

The justification behind Mia Love’s lawsuit

Salt Lake County ballot counting.

Volunteers process ballots at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. (Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Swensen says that Love’s lawsuit came as a surprise.

Love’s complaint, in particular, left Swensen confused. Love is protesting that her staff has not been able to monitor the ballots. As Swensen points out, however, both Love and McAdams’s campaigns have had observers in every polling location monitoring every step of the process.

There is no question that what Swensen says is true. Love’s campaign admits that their staff has been allowed to watch the Salt Lake County team check the signatures on the mail-in ballots.

The lawsuit, however, specifically complains that her staff hasn’t been given the right to challenge Salt Lake County’s decisions.

“A right of observation without a right of challenge,” Love’s lawsuit says, “is a hollow right indeed.”

Does the lawsuit stand a chance?

KSL’s Dave & Dujanovic spoke with political analyst and Deseret Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson to see if Love’s complaint had any chance of holding up in court.

The issue at hand, Matheson says, really comes down to a problem inherent in all vote-by-mail systems rather than in a problem with the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office itself.

“What we’re really running into is the biggest challenge with vote-by-mail,” Matheson says, “and that is you never really know what a person’s signature is going to be.”

Deciding whether a signature matches is ultimately a judgment call, and any decision a clerk makes could cause problems, Matheson says. If they are too lenient, they could accept a vote that was illegally cast; if they are too strict, they could cut out a legitimate vote.

When it comes to voting-by-mail in general, Matheson says, “there are a host problem that have to be worked through.”

Still, he admits: “I’m not a big fan of ‘Let’s immediately go to the Hail Mary. Let’s start doing lawsuits.’”

McAdams: Love’s lawsuit “smacks of desperation.”

Ben McAdams

File photo Salt Lake County Mayor Jen McAdams, taken in Herriman High School on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (James Wooldridge, Deseret News)

Love’s challenger, Ben McAdams, is less sympathetic. He harshly criticized Love’s lawsuit in a tweet, saying: “It is the job of election officials to decide what votes count, not political candidates.”

As McAdams points out, Love has only filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake County, the area in which McAdams got the majority of his votes.

Swensen, however, had received little to no criticism for her work before the lawsuit was filed. Instead, most of the news coverage has focused on problems with the count in Utah County, where Love is currently ahead.

As McAdams says, Love has yet to file any complaints against the Utah County Clerk.

District Attorney Sim Gill has said that he will defend Swensen vigorously against Love’s suit, telling the Deseret News: “There’s not a more conscientious clerk in the state than Sherrie Swensen. She’s very diligent. She’s very professional. She meticulously follows the law.”

Matheson, who calls Love’s lawsuit “business as usual,” agrees that Love’s hopes of winning the election hinge on the remaining count in Salt Lake County. He predicts that Love will need around 49 percent of the remaining votes in Salt Lake County to win.

“Literally every single vote has to count,” Matheson says. “I think it is going to be that close in the end.”

In the end, however, the decision with fall on 3rd District Judge James Gardner. He will be hearing Love’s case today at 2:00 PM.

In the meantime, Swensen says, her office will keep counting the ballot until a judge tells them otherwise.

More to the story

Listen to KSL Newsradio live to catch every update on this story as it develops.

If you missed Dave & Dujanovic’s interview with Boyd Matheson, you can still catch every insight he had to share on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Mia Love campaign files lawsuit to stop ballot counting in Salt Lake County