GOVERNMENT

County clerks report more poll watchers, scrutiny ahead of Utah primary

Jun 16, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: Jun 21, 2022, 9:20 am
ballot count amendments utah...
FILE -- Election ballots are processed by workers at the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Salt Lake and Utah counties are reporting they are seeing more poll watchers acting as watchdogs. Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — County clerks in some of Utah’s largest counties say they’re seeing more poll watchers acting as watchdogs, and more poll workers not returning to the job due to added election scrutiny ahead of the Primary election.

Clerks in both Salt Lake and Utah counties say they value transparency but believe this is fallout from the nation’s controversy over election security stemming from the 2020 election. 

Poll watchers

“We have more poll watchers [than in previous elections] in our election management center where we’re processing ballots,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swenson. “And we’ve hired security guards there…a lot more than we’ve ever had.”

She also says they’ve had to tape out an area where the watchers can stand, something they’ve dubbed the “yellow brick road.”

“We want to make sure that they can see what they need to see but we also have to secure our ballots.”

A new Utah law says poll watchers have a right to be within six feet of what they’re watching.

In Utah County, some long-time poll workers aren’t coming back because of the level of scrutiny.

“On the one hand you have people just more interested in elections, and generally that’s a good thing,” said Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels. “But with [that] comes a lot of frustration, animosity, and maybe lack of understanding of elections…which sometime leads to people behaving the way they haven’t behaved historically.” 

Nothing in either county, both clerks say, has risen to the level of harassment of poll workers.

More requests for records

Both clerks emphatically tell KSL NewsRadio there has been an uptick in public records requests, also known as GRAMMA requests. 

“There are people requesting kinds of records that have never been requested before,” Daniels said. “Sometimes records that don’t really exist, they are things we don’t routinely have records of.”

Swenson says in Salt Lake County, four of five people are requesting all of theirs, “over and over and over.”

“[They’re] outrageously, long and broad,” she said.

These requests take time for IT workers to search the sometimes-broad terms, resulting in thousands of communications. Meaning, it’s costing the county money.

“It is literally costing the county thousands upon thousands of dollars to respond to these requests,” Swenson said.

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County clerks report more poll watchers, scrutiny ahead of Utah primary