Utah County clerk/auditor clarifies confusion in voting procedures to assure residents of election security
With the June 28 GOP primary election only a week away, Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels hopes to eliminate public confusion about election security and county regulations — particularly surrounding the county’s compliance with House Bill 313.
HB 313 was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on March 22. The bill’s purpose was to address election security and voter confidence. It lists many provisions that counties must follow in accordance with the law.
One provision that has brought confusion to many Utah residents is Section 9, which states that “all unattended ballot drop boxes must have video surveillance.”
According to the Utah County website, there are a total of 28 ballot drop boxes within the county. The public has 24/7 access to a majority of the drop boxes, because they are permanently stationed outside the listed locations. Daniels said every 24/7 access box has cameras nearby monitoring it at all times.
Drop boxes in Cedar Fort, Fairfield, Genola and Goshen are the few locations where a permanent box isn’t available, so temporary boxes were stationed inside each office listed on the website.
Daniels told the Daily Herald the law states that there must be a ballot drop box at each city within the county, but the drop boxes are not required to be permanent.
“That’s part of the reason why the law was written the way it was,” Daniels said. “You have to establish video surveillance of unattended drop boxes. So, this works. In cities where it doesn’t make sense to have a 24/7 box, we will put temporary ones in city offices where they are attended.”
The elections office decided temporary boxes would be placed in these areas because — if it weren’t for the new law — boxes wouldn’t be in these cities due to their populations.
“In those cases, I think those voters are unlikely to even use those boxes,” Daniels said. “They are more likely to mail the ballot back by using their own mailboxes or drop it off in one of the permanent drop boxes that are more conveniently located.”
Temporary boxes are monitored city staff, allowing the county to follow the law in a cost-efficient manner.
While there are state laws every county must follow regarding elections, a lot of election details are left to the county’s supervising official. Daniels is responsible for ballot security, which includes the custody, documentation of custody, handling, processing, disposition and tabulation of ballots.
“When we count ballots in Utah County, we have our own process,” he said. “The details of how we do that are left up to us. For example, when we go to the drop box to pick up ballots, do one or two people go? There’s no requirement in the state law for that. So I suppose, if we wanted to, we could have one person go. However, in Utah County, we send two people because we feel that’s more secure.”
Daniels added that there are always at least two people involved in every step for optimal security.
“There’s no legal authority for the lieutenant governor’s office to require a county to do more than the law requires,” he said. “Often times, laws aren’t detailed in that way. These are the kind of things that really are governed by administrative rules. So, that’s an example of how we do things in Utah County.”
On the day of the election, six primary election voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. for county residents to show up and vote in-person. Daniels said there will also be a drop box at each voting center for people to drop their ballots. These boxes do not require video surveillance because they will be attended to throughout election day.
“Our plan for in-person voting is people show up with their ID and we check them off and make sure they haven’t already voted,” he said. “So, that process is the first step. Then we print a paper voter ballot they can fill it out, bring it back and we can scan it. Once it’s scanned, that ballot is secured and then the voter can leave.”
For individuals who wish to pick up a paper ballot and take it with them, envelopes will be available.
Daniels said scanning the ballots is a much easier process. At the end of election day, a thumb drive will be removed from the scanning machines and added into the total report. Mail-in and in-person votes take longer to process, but both options will be available.
Daniels added that the elections office tried to make sure everyone was within 15 minutes of a voting center.