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New Utah County elections equipment speeds up counting process

New elections equipment is shortening the amount of time and people it takes to process ballots, meaning people should be able to expect results more quickly during Tuesday’s municipal primary than in the past.

The municipal primary is the first election under a new Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers, who has obtained new equipment in preparation for the highly-anticipated presidential election next year.

One machine, which Utah County elections director Rozan Mitchell called “life-changing,” can process up to 15,000 ballots per hour.

“The process we went through prior to getting this machine took several staff and temporary employees hours — even days — to do,” Mitchell said. “Now we just do it in a matter of minutes.”

Elections staff feed stacks of ballot envelopes into the machine, which processes them rapid-fire into waiting, color coded baskets. If there’s something wrong with a ballot, like the machine couldn’t read its bar code, or the voter didn’t sign the outside, they’ll drop it into a red box.

The machine uses high-speed scanners to scan the signatures on the outside of the ballots, making sure the signatures match. The machine so far is auto-verifying about 25% of signatures with the signatures the county has on file, saving time on a process that used to be done manually.

The remaining 75% of ballot signatures have to be verified by elections staff, but the machine speeds up that process as well. After it scans the signature, it will automatically appear on a screen next to a photo of the signature the county has on file for that voter. Staff can then go through and compare signatures, either approving the ones that match or set them aside for more research.

Before the machine, Mitchell said everything was done by hand scanners, and staff had to take a tray of ballots and scan each bar code individually, before passing them off to the next team who, with a ballot in front of them, would look up the voter in the system to check the signature to make sure it matched.

While it’s still too early to know exactly how much time this process is saving, Deputy Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels said current estimates have the process taking about a quarter of the time it used to.

Once signatures are verified for the ballots, they’re put through the machine again. This time, with signatures verified, they should be processed into a green bin meaning they’re ready to be opened.

Ballots that reach this stage of the process then head to ballot-opening machines, the second in a line of new time-saving equipment. Before, Mitchell said ballots were opened manually with letter openers.

The machines quickly open the ballots, which are then manually unfolded and put through a scanner in batches.

The scanners, also new this year, can both process 300 ballots per minute, which is three times faster than the old scanners, Daniels said.

County staff is already seeing the benefits of this system, Daniels said. In past years, elections staff have worked the Saturday before the election. By 5 p.m. Friday, the county was completely caught up on all the ballots received in the mail. Right now, there are about eight temporary election employees, whereas there would have been about 20 for the same-sized election in the past.

“They didn’t remember the last time they had the Saturday before an election off,” Mitchell said.

The increase in speed and efficiency is even more important with the 2020 presidential election looming. The county will need to be ready to process approximately 220,000 votes, including about 200,000 mail-in ballots, Daniels said.

“It’s a presidential election, so it still gets hectic,” Mitchell said. “It will definitely make us more efficient, faster at getting out our results and far more efficient at processing the ballots.”

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald 

Kapali Kiaha, a registered nurse, hands a stuffed animal belonging to Roman Boatwright, 2, of Orem, back to him after conducting a mock surgery on the bear with his help during Timpanogos Regional Hospital's annual Teddy Bear Clinic held Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, in Orem. Hundreds and hundreds of stuffed animals came through Timpanogos Regional Hospital on Monday, with the aim of showing them, and their young owners, that the hospital isn’t such a scary place to be. Roughly 2,000 people came to the annual free event, according to Nate Black, director of communications at Timpanogos Regional Hospital. “It’s an opportunity for parents to bring their kids to the hospital and have them get familiar with it,” said Black. “So that if there is some kind of an emergency, the kids feel comfortable coming.” Stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes were processed in a way similar to how a newborn baby is welcomed into the world at the hospital, like taking vitals, weighing it and diapering it. The tour of the hospital culminates in a mock surgery on the stuffed animals, in which children can participate, and also educates families on different kinds of care they can receive. The event also celebrated the second anniversary of the opening of the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, the only one of its kind in Utah County, according to Black. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Provo High School class of '49 celebrates 70 years of friendship

Personifying the famous words from Cole Porter’s song Friendship, members of the Provo High School Class of 1949 say their friendship is “just a perfect blendship.”

Mary Keith Boyack, Dale Shumway, Hilton “Turf” Terry and Ralph Morgan continue to bring members of the ‘49ers together. Shumway and Terry are the co-chairs for this year’s 70th reunion.

The reunion will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Provo Library at Academy Square. A catered buffet and sharing memories and memorabilia will part of the day’s festivities.

Classmates also meet three times a year when available to check up on each other at the Brick Oven Restaurant, or as they call it Heaps A Pizza, its original name.

Shumway said they are expecting between 40 and 50 classmates to attend the daytime reunion. There were about 500 in the original class according to Boyack.

Members of the class of ’49 were mostly born in 1931, during the Great Depression. They were 10 years-old when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, thus pushing the U.S. into World War II.

The class of ’49 went to school in the building that was located at 300 West and Center Street, where the Provo City building is now.

“Boy’s P.E. was in the street on first south,” Shumway said. “We didn’t have many facilities.”

“We went to Pioneer Park on 500 West to run the 440 race,” Morgan said.

Terry added, “We graduated in the Provo Tabernacle (now the Provo City Center LDS Temple).”

The ‘49ers class project was to cut down all the trees in in the area that would one day make the football field for the new high school being built at about 1200 N. University Avenue.

Shumway said they were a protected group. Everyone considered one another friends, though political parties and religions often differed. It didn’t matter, they were all kind to each other.

“I only know of one kid that used drugs in the high school, and that was marijuana,” Morgan said.

If there was anyone who made some interesting choices Boyack said it was her. She said she wrote the assembly for girl’s day and other programs.

“I was always getting out of class,” Boyack said. “It’s a wonder I graduated at all.”

But then she added, “It was ‘Turf’ who was the first boy to get a car in the school.”

Terry and Boyack met when they were 5 years old at Maeser Elementary School and have been friends since. This week after 83 years, she finally told him she had a crush on him back in their school days.

Shumway said he was always playing with the boys, but said playing with the boys was totally different from how it may be interpreted now.

“We were a bunch of social dudes,” Shumway said.

They had their favorite teachers too. Sherman Wing and Libby Hayward both taught English. Rudolph Reece was a math teacher and Al Johnson a highly favored science teacher.

According to Shumway a special recognition should go to Reece Bench, their chemistry teacher and of course, the Provo High School favorite principal Delbert “Deb” Tregaegle.

By 1949, the country was on track and growing again after the war. Provo High School students were unified through programs, dances and fun.

“It was a time of prosperity,” Boyack said.

Terry added, “We were trying to determine our next event, was it college, marriage or a career.”

“It was a transition time,” Shumway said.

As children they had already been through some of the most devastating times in American history.

“We were born the same year the Boulder Dam was built and the Empire State Building. During the heart of the Great Depression. We were very depressed. We didn’t have money but we had things,” Shumway said.

Morgan said he read the Daily Herald every day looking for the war column to get the synopsis on what was happening in both Europe and the Pacific. While Boyack said she just read the comics.

“I had two brothers in the Pacific,” Morgan said. Morgan went to join the Brigham Young University ROTC and after more than two decades retired a Major in the U.S. Air Force serving two tours in Vietnam.

Shumway went on to work with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Indian Placement program. Terry served in the Army during the Korean War and was a clerk/typist in South Korea. Boyack became a poet and author.

For information about the reunion call Terry at (801) 226-7237.

George Frey, Associated Press 

Ron Lafferty takes notes during his court hearing in the 4th District Courtroom of Judge Anthony Schofield in Provo, Utah, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005. 

Cult leader, Ron Lafferty, who killed two in American Fork loses latest appeal, may soon face firing squad

A Utah death row inmate who murdered his sister-in-law and her baby daughter more than three decades ago could be executed soon after a federal appeals court rejected another appeal on Monday.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied and dismissed four claims filed by Ron Lafferty, 78, after the claims were denied by a district court in October 2017.

Lafferty argued he was misrepresented by his first trial attorneys and he should not have been found competent during his two jury trials.

“In light of the record presented, we are not persuaded that reasonable jurists could differ as to the district court’s resolution of this claim,” the court stated in the 18-page ruling.

The Associated Press reported Lafferty could be executed by firing squad as soon as next year, according to Utah assistant solicitor general Andrew Peterson.

Utah law allows Lafferty the choice between lethal injection or firing squad, and he reportedly chose the latter in court proceedings.

The last inmate executed by a firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010, who shot and killed a man during a robbery in 1985 in Salt Lake City.

Lafferty was sentenced to death for killing Brenda Lafferty, 24, and her 1-year-old daughter, Erica, in American Fork in 1984.

He and his brother Dan claimed they were following a revelation from God when they slashed the throats of the wife and daughter of their brother Allen. While Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders, Ron Lafferty received a heavier sentence due to a judge’s belief that Ron Lafferty was the mastermind of killings, according to an Associated Press report.

The men established a small cult with other brothers, and a central belief in practicing polygamy, and cited divine revelation for the murders. But prosecutors claimed Ron Lafferty was mad at the woman for helping his wife divorce him.

He is one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the state after being convicted by juries in 1988 and 1996, according to the Associated Press.

The Lafferty case gained further nationwide attention after becoming the subject of Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book “Under the Banner of Heaven,” which detailed the Lafferty murders and the practice of polygamy in Utah and beyond.

Jim Ballard, Special to the Herald 

Sophomore Grace Evans focuses on serving the ball while standing in front of the Pleasant Grove student section.