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Utah Democrats blast GOP lawmakers for backing election auditing effort

By Mark Shenefelt - Special to the Daily Herald | Nov 30, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Special to the Daily Herald

Reps. Lee Perry, left, and Mike Schultz speak with an audience member following a town hall gathering on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in West Haven.

The Utah Democratic Party has condemned three Republican state legislators’ support for persisting GOP efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result, but two of the lawmakers defend their advocacy, saying ballot integrity is paramount.

Utah House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and GOP Reps. Mike Petersen of North Logan and Phil Lyman of Blanding signed a Nov. 23 open letter drafted by Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers, an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump. The letter, signed by dozens of state legislators around the country, called for a 50-state forensic audit of the 2020 election results, decertification of electors in states with results certified “prematurely and inaccurately” and convening of the U.S. House to “decide the rightful winner of the election.”

Utah’s Democratic Party leadership, in a statement issued Monday, blasted the Utahns for signing the letter. “Not only did the letter support the Big Lie, it went as far as calling for the U.S. House of Representatives to overturn the results of the 2020 election,” the statement said. “This rhetoric from any elected official is unacceptable, dangerous, and shameful, but it is especially so from a member of the GOP House leadership team.”

Schultz was recently chosen as majority leader of the Utah House, the No. 2 spot in GOP leadership behind House Speaker Brad Wilson of Kaysville.

“It has been proven over and over that the 2020 election was the safest and most secure in the history of our country,” the Democrats’ statement said. “So the fact that Utah Republicans … are still peddling dangerous conspiracy theories about it more than a year later is truly disturbing.”

Diane Lewis, interim chair of the Utah Democratic Party, added in the statement, “These lies are far from harmless: they undermine and threaten our democracy and free and fair elections, and they directly inspired the horrific violence and destruction that we saw at our nation’s Capitol on January 6th.”

In a phone interview, Schultz said some of his constituents urged him to sign Rogers’ letter. “I just fundamentally believe we should have audits on every election cycle,” Schultz said. “I don’t think we audit things enough at this point in time.”

He said it “isn’t necessarily about the 2020 election” and that “it should not be a partisan issue.” While local county clerks have said they conduct multiple levels of election audits, Schultz said he supports creation of a state-level post-election audit system.

Lyman and a fourth Utah signer of Rogers’ letter, Steven Christiansen of West Jordan, gave a presentation to a Utah legislative committee in October calling for a full forensic audit of Utah’s elections. Christiansen later resigned from the Legislature. Christiansen and Lyman attacked the security of vote by mail and advocated a return to paper ballots.

Schultz and Petersen, his colleague from North Logan, said Monday they each had a relative receive mail-in ballots they shouldn’t have. Schultz said his daughter got ballots mailed to two addresses where she had lived, one each in Weber and Davis counties.

“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Schultz said, adding that county clerks’ offices “assured me it would get caught. That makes me feel better.”

Schultz in turn criticized opponents of deeper auditing. “What are you scared of?” he asked.

Petersen said his son moved from Utah in summer 2020, but ballots with his name were sent to his parents’ address in the last three elections. “Experiences such as this leave people wondering about the integrity of our elections,” he said. “Lack of confidence erodes participation in the election process.”

Petersen said he plans to introduce during the 2022 legislative session a bill to broaden procedures county clerks must follow “for maintaining voter rolls prior to each primary and general election.”

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