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Official touts election security ahead of Tuesday results

By Harrison Epstein - | Nov 6, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels showcases a sorting machine used in the Utah County ballot center in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

In recent years, more and more attention has been drawn to the notion of voter fraud and the individual officials running elections.

“Election workers in this country are just being completely flamed; it’s so unfair. And they feel it. They’re good sports, they’re quiet about it. I try to take all the political heat,” Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels told the Daily Herald. “It’s crazy to have people allege things that are just totally fantastical and just nonsense.”

Daniels has served as the clerk/auditor since April 2021 when Amelia Powers Gardner vacated the role after being elected to fill a seat on the Utah County Commission. Daniels previously worked as the chief deputy for Powers Gardner.

Issues around the 2022 election cycle began after the Republican primary election when, on July 12, Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee attempted to approve an outside audit into the election.

The motion was raised by Lee during the Board of Canvassers meeting, saying it would be an opportunity for “us as a community to heal some of the misperceptions.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

A tabulation machine scans ballots at the Utah County ballot center in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. The machine is never connected to the internet and reads 300 ballots per minute.

Addressing both the Board of Canvassers in July and the Utah County Commission on Wednesday was Cindy Butler, a statistician Lee originally raised as a possible candidate to lead the audit.

On Aug. 17, Lee added another motion to the county commission’s agenda, authorizing Butler to do the audit, though the item was tabled. Just days later, Butler presented about “digital manipulation” at an election fraud summit hosted by Mike Lindell, the My Pillow CEO and an ardent denier of the 2020 presidential election results.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Lee again recommended an outside audit of the election.

“If something like this was done, it might be helpful. It might be helpful to us as citizens and as individuals who are voting to help us with the goal of trying to heal or get more confidence in the election process and the election outcome. At least it would give us an outside verification,” he said.

At the original Board of Canvassers meeting, and again Wednesday, Daniels said there were no signs of irregularities or fraud.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Volunteers flatten ballots at the Utah County ballot center in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Ballots are flattened to more easily move through vote-counting machines.

He also reiterated that he isn’t opposed — on its face — to analyzing election data, just that things need to be done through the proper channels.

“We’re willing to participate, we’re willing to collaborate and figure those things out and increase faith in elections, we’re willing to do statistical studies, we’re willing to have Cindy participate. But there’s certain legal hurdles that we can’t overcome ourselves. We don’t have unilateral authority to just do all kinds of things that people want just because they want it,” Daniels said.

He added that there aren’t necessarily any safety risks associated with doing an audit, but that there will be financial costs, and political risks also exist. He stressed that any person hired to do an independent audit would need to be “qualified or credentialed” and “agree to a certain standard of quality.”

Election audits are already done in Utah, at the direction of the Lt. Governor’s Office. After the election, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office will assign random batches of ballots for workers to go through and verify. The audit, which is open to the public, will be conducted in Utah County with oversight from the Board of Canvassers.

To the commission, Butler argued the audit could spot anomalies, namely patterns that “should not be there.” She claimed that “a lot of people” have distrust in the elections because they can’t see the raw data. Daniels rejected the idea that an outlier is a sign of fraud or misdoings, comparing it to a sample of human height.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald file photo

Ballots sit in the Utah County ballot center in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

“Is an extra tall person, a fraudulent person? No,” he said.

In terms of geographic centering of votes, clusters of Democratic votes in Republican areas and vice versa, Daniels said its not an example of fraud, just that opinions are not evenly distributed across an area.

The Board of Canvassers will meet Nov. 22 to certify the results of the general election, which concludes this Tuesday.

Walking through the ballot processing center on Thursday, Daniels discussed every step of the process, from the receiving of ballots all the way to individual vote counting, while talking about the security safeguards along the way.

Voters have their identity verified before moving forward and receiving a paper ballot. Ballots mailed into the office are flattened so they can, more simply, move through machines used for counting votes. A high-speed scanner reads about 300 ballots per minute, Daniels said.

If ballots are damaged or ripped, they are processed with slow-speed scanners. Digital information from the ballots is then moved to computers in the balloting center. The computers are air-gapped, meaning they never connect to the internet or any outside networks that could put information at risk of tampering.

Results are tabulated on computers in the secure ballot processing center before being exported to a thumb drive, which is then brought to a computer on the state’s network that can publish vote totals.

Voters can either turn in their mailed ballots to a certified drop box or vote in-person through Tuesday. As of Saturday afternoon, about 27.44% of ballots had been received and processed by the Clerk/Auditor’s Office.


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