While this year’s elections have seen some interesting twists, one of the most problematic could be the printed stickers used by those voting for Provo mayoral write-in candidate, Odell Miner.
In a generous move, Miner had transparent stickers printed with his name and a filled-in voting oval or bubble to affix to the mail-in ballot in the hopes of making things easier for those voting for him.
Bryan Thompson, Utah County clerk/auditor, was uneasy about Miner using the stickers in case a reading machine got jammed or had some other problem. However, Thompson said he couldn’t stop Miner from doing it either.
“I told Odell you may not see all of your count,” Thompson said.
As predicted, when it came to election night, the reading machine could not read the pre-filled oval on the sticker
Thompson then had his election team fill in the ovals so it showed the individual voted for Miner.
According to Thompson, to preserve the integrity of the ballot, the initial enhancement — the act of filling in the oval — must be witnessed by two people, and the adjudication — ensuring the ballots’ integrity — by two other people. The machine also captures it in a digital copy. That all took extra time.
“We enhanced 100 or so (ballots),” Thompson said. “The problem was the opaque nature of the stickers caused a reflection back into the machine.”
Filling in the oval on the ballots raised some questions. Some were concerned whether elections workers were positive the sticker meant the voter wanted Miner although the oval was not filled.
Utah Code on evaluating voter’s ballot choices indicates that when a question arises regarding a vote recorded on a paper ballot, two counting judges jointly adjudicate the ballot.
“The counting judges shall count a defective or incomplete mark on a paper ballot if: (a) the defective or incomplete mark is in the proper place; and (b) there is no other mark or cross on the ballot indicating the voter’s intent to vote other than as indicated by the incomplete or defective mark.” reads section 20A-4-105 of Utah Code.
Mark Thomas, director of the Lt. Governor’s Office of Elections, said although it sounds like correct steps were taken, he is still not completely comfortable.
For instance, some are concerned ballots are marked when some may not want them, if they affixed the sticker but wanted another candidate and other questions of potential ballot tampering are left unanswered.
“Making sure that everyone’s vote counts is fundamental to our democracy. While we don’t know all of the facts, this type of incident demonstrates the importance of independent safeguards and reviews for Utah’s elections,” said Brittney Nystrom, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “We are heartened that the process here appears to be transparent so the public can be appropriately informed and involved.”
Thompson is confident the elections office has done the right thing in filling in the ovals of the stickers read incorrectly, but the office could still be challenged on the integrity of their count.
“I can tell clearly the intent of the voter,” Thompson said.
Another batch of ballot results will be released Tuesday, including mailed ballots with the correct mail-by date and some provisional ballots.