City of Hurricane plans to recount their primary election results by hand
Aug 30, 2023, 4:44 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2023, 10:57 am
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
HURRICANE, Utah — The city of Hurricane plans to re-count its municipal primary election results by hand after Washington County tabulates the results via its counting machines.
Mayor Nanette Billings told KSL NewsRadio the residents of her city want her to verify the results, and questioned whether tabulation machines can be manipulated.
“The community, the people (and) the citizens … have said, ‘can we be sure that this is accurate?'” she told KSL NewsRadio. “And our job as (the Board of) Canvassers is to trust and verify.”
Cities that have municipal elections often contract with their counties, which have equipment and staff to administer the elections. This year, the state is requiring counties run elections because of the special election in Congressional District 2.
In Hurricane, public records show that that in the weeks before that law was put in place, the city wanted to tabulate its own elections by hand. Those records further allege that it wanted to appoint at least some of its own board of canvassers to go in and do the hand recount.
It’s not unusual for a city to run it’s own election, but when the county is running it, it is highly unusual for a board of canvassers to go into a clerk’s office and recount ballots — let alone by hand — when canvassing an election. Typically, a board will get a canvass report from the county clerk including the results and then they vote on whether to certify the election.
Hurricane wanted to tabulate their own election
The city initially asked to be able to tabulate its own municipal election via a hand count instead of having Washington County use its machines to tabulate.
“We thought if we remove (the tabulation) from (the county) … then it takes them out of the process so people don’t go, ‘oh the county did something wrong,'” Mayor Billings said.
A letter obtained through a public records request shows that Washington County Clerk Ryan Sullivan met with Mayor Billings, her husband Willie Billings, and Councilman Kevin Thomas and discussed issues surrounding counting and the board of canvassers in mid May.
Last year, Willie Billings lost a seat for the state legislature by less than 10 votes. He then sued after the county wouldn’t recount the votes by hand. He later dropped the lawsuit citing costs.
Following that meeting, Sullivan sent a letter informing the Billings’, Thomas, and the entire city council, that if it wanted to tabulate its own results they should pull out of their contract.
“I would suggest canceling the recently adopted interlocal election agreement and have you administer your own election under a new agreement,” he wrote. “The option would be my preference if you do not trust our process.”
Sullivan offered to order envelopes, and ballots through the county’s vendor. The county is required by state law to verify signatures.
“After we perform the signature verification process, we will transfer chain of custody of the ballots to Hurricane City,” Sullivan wrote.
Sullivan further explains that he didn’t think that was the prudent option since Hurricane didn’t have the equipment or staff to administer the election. He warned that the city would ultimately be accountable to its voters.
Hurricane decides to stay in the agreement
Citing cost, printing and staffing, Mayor Billings said the council stayed in the interlocal agreement with the county. They, instead, decided to do a hand recount as they canvassed the election. In the letter, Sullivan relented that state law would allow for that.
According to [state law] the board of canvassers can request all ballots, registers, books, etc. for review and inspection. Although I believe the intent of the law is to allow an inspection and not a count of the ballots, I see nothing in the code preventing the board of canvassers from counting ballots when they are performing their inspecting and reviewing duties.
Sullivan further warned that he would be charging for the extra staff time it would take to do this. Counties have to have elections canvassed by September 19th. Mayor Billings and the council have scheduled to go into the clerk’s office to recount on the 18th — the day before the last day of the canvass.
Appointing a Board of Canvassers
The letter alleges that the Billings’ and at least Thomas also wanted to appoint at least some of its own board of canvassers.
“During the meeting it was evident that there is a misunderstanding on (the Billings’ and Thomas’) part as to who the municipal board of canvassers are,” wrote Sullivan. “(Utah law) clearly defines the municipal board of canvassers as the mayor and the municipal legislative body.”
Mayor Billings denied they were trying to appoint people to the board, rather she said they were looking for help canvassing. She acknowledged that state law is clear on who makes up the board of canvassers.
“We asked if we could have others help us with this process,” she said.
“Your canvassing duties cannot be delegated,” wrote Sullivan to the group in the letter. “If you believe this position is incorrect then I encourage you to file a lawsuit immediately … and not ‘bring as many people as we want’ to ‘hand count votes’ as was threatened by Willie Billings in our meeting.”
Mayor Billings signaled they would be bringing help. She said they plan to have others come to help count while the official Board of Canvassers does the statutorily required inspecting.
“They are going to help us,” she said. “Yes, we have elected people that are coming to look at something, but we have the county (and) their staff, they’re helping us with this.”
Mayor Billings was also asked what happens if their hand count finds a discrepancy.
“We’re hoping that does not happen. And I don’t think it will,” she said. “But that’s a great question and we’ll have to address it when that happens.”
The hand recount will only apply to the municipal primary races in Hurricane. The entire city is part of the CD2 special election to replace Chris Stewart. It’s the county commissioners who are in charge of canvassing that election.