Election clerks in Utah say new law is pulling them from counting votes

Nov 1, 2022, 9:30 PM | Updated: Nov 8, 2022, 11:36 am
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FILE: Michael Fife, election coordinator, prepares to put ballots into a counting machine as Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, shows some of the ballot counting processes of mail-in ballots in South Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019 (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new Utah law requires that county clerks post online the number of ballots they receive, as well as where those ballots are in the counting process.

Some clerks say this new requirement is cumbersome — and taking away from time they could be counting ballots.

Davis County Clerk Brian McKenzie said it’s not so much figuring out the total number of ballots, but the hard part is the requirement to also figure out the number of ballots that are in process, that have not been processed, ballots that have been challenged, that need adjudication, replication, or have been replicated. 

“Does it slow down our operation when we have to go into that much detail? Absolutely,” said McKenzie.

Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch, called this law “death by a thousand cuts.”

“A single bill that adds only a small amount of additional work isn’t a big deal. Thirty bills that each add only a small amount of additional work adds up to a lot of work,” he told KSL NewsRadio.

Counting votes

McKenzie likened the process to trying to count all the cars on I-15 while they were moving. If they stopped down, it would be easy.

“Literally thousands of ballots are coming in every day,” McKenzie said, “and are being processed in various different steps in the ballot processing.”

Salt Lake County reports they had to buy two counting machines to tally their ballots. 

“It adds a whole ‘nother step to our process,” said Clerk Sherrie Swenson.

The new law requires “estimated” ballot counts be posted every Monday, Wednesday, Friday before Election Day. Along with the overall tally, the specific requirements include provisional ballots that have not been processed, ballots that need adjudicated, the number of ballots awaiting replication, and the number that have been replicated. 

McKenzie also points out that having this data tallied after Election Day makes sense for campaigns who might need to tell how many votes are outstanding, but the reason it’s needed before Election Day, he says, doesn’t make sense to him.

“I don’t see how this information is necessarily helpful to our citizens nor to campaigns or candidates,” he said.

Not all counties say it’s cumbersome, though. Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels says his county uses what’s known as their Agilis machine, which also verifies signatures, to tally. And tallies are something he says his county does anyway.

Despite the extra work, McKenzie said he does not see this impacting any results.

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Election clerks in Utah say new law is pulling them from counting votes