Commissioner Lee: Don’t want to ‘rubber stamp’ election certification
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee plans to address concerns he has about the election result certifying process at Tuesday’s Board of Canvassers meeting.
Lee and Commissioners Tom Sakeivich and Amelia Powers Gardner all serve as members of the Board of Canvassers, who are supposed to vote to certify the GOP primary election results that occurred two weeks ago.
In an interview with the Daily Herald, Lee said he wanted to clarify “misguided information” in an article published early Monday by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The article questioned the motives Lee may have to seek cast vote record, or CVR, information from the Utah County Clerk’s office. The information is a sum of votes cast without voters’ personal information, Lee said, although Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels told the Tribune the release of such data potentially runs counter to the Utah Constitution.
The Tribune article tied Lee to election fraud conspiracy groups. Lee lost to his challenger, Brandon Gordon, by fewer than 2,000 votes.
Lee said he requested the CVR documents last week, reasoning that it’s his job as a board of canvasser member to make an informed decision before voting to certify the election and not be a rubber stamp. He questioned the certifying process and said he believes having an outside party audit the election results would calm public fears on election security.
“I sit on the Board of Canvassers, and I take that seriously,” Lee said. “I’ve had questions about the canvassing rule over the years. It’s always been kind of loose about what it means. For the most part, it means the canvassers, the county commissioners, are supposed to trust and not verify, which I think is backwards because it’s set up for the canvassers to have the ability to have a process to say that we feel comfortable with the election.”
Lee gave the example that state Legislature requires county commissioners to have an outside audit performed in the county’s financials. He feels something similar should be done for election results.
“It gives us confidence that someone else is looking at this as well and if there are fraudulent things happening, hopefully they will spot it,” he said. “Again, I’m not a certified public accountant and to just say, ‘You looked at it as commissioners and you voted on it, therefore it’s good,’ doesn’t mean the process is right. We hire out for professionals who deal with many areas. For me, when I’m looking at one of the most important processes that we deal with for elections, we are asked to trust and not verify.”
Having an outside source complete an audit would also prevent any board member from making their decision based on personal reasons, Lee claimed.
“That’s why there’s beauty of having an audit come in and look at everything all the way through,” he said. “It holds so much weight because if we had an outside firm, hired by the commission, come through and do a report showing that everything checked out and then I was to say I’m not certifying, that would be a problem.”
This is the first election Lee said he felt the need to request such documents, explaining that his experience and knowledge has helped him ask harder questions this time around.
“This comes from a feel of the community that we need to spend attention on this issue,” he said. “So, I’m reflecting that from the county to make sure our elections are proper. In the past, there wasn’t that feel from the county, and everything seemed fine.
“As a county commissioner, I have to vote to certify the election. I don’t see anything right now that would change that from a certification. But what I don’t know, I don’t know. If I’m not allowed to go through a process to get to that point, it gets really hard to just blindly stand it and trust but not verify.”
Lee wasn’t the only commissioner who requested the CVR data. Sakeivich told the Daily Herald he requested the documents because he was looking for the statement of votes cast.
“I was looking for how we validate the votes presented to the county,” Sakeivich said. “I had an interview with some of the members of the clerk/auditor’s election team, and I had a two-hour review of the whole process this morning of a random box of ballots to compare them to the electronic readings of them.”
Sakeivich said it’s the responsibility of the canvassers to review and understand how the process works.
“When a person is elected into office, we are supposed to be put into position to double check things out of the population, so we should do that. I am open to other methods for this process. There has been such a shakeup throughout the county on if elections have been maintained or not, and it’s affecting us locally. From what I can see, we are pretty solid. We have third-party audits on everything but elections. I’d be open to the idea for the coming years, but I’m otherwise happy with the process as it is so far.”
Lee said he’s going to present these concerns at the Board of Canvassers meeting Tuesday.
“I have always been one to ask hard questions, and I ask them because I don’t want a Potemkin board of canvassers,” he added. “We want them to have real power, go through the process and come to a conclusion on their own because we have to vote. I would like to have others look at it that are experts in this area and see. I’m not claiming there is any fraud. The point is we put checks and balances of power in place so we can get to a level where we are comfortable.”
Daniels told the Daily Herald he believes there was a misunderstanding regarding what information Lee was requesting. The two had a meeting Monday afternoon to go over Lee’s pre-canvassing review.
“I think Commissioner Lee may have not been clear on what documents are in the preview of the canvas and what are not,” Daniels said. “I think he was asking for something that he thought was a part of the process, but I think we sorted through a lot of that today.
“A cast vote record is a single record that is made from each ballot that tells how the system counted each ballot. What Lee was asking was a summary of all of those records. Our system can create that, but that’s not our process of the canvass. Usually it’s a summary of the results.”
The Board of Canvassers meeting will be held in the County Commissioner chambers at 3 p.m. Tuesday.