A judge heard arguments from both sides Thursday in regards to a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Mia Love, R-Saratoga Springs, in an effort to be able to challenge determinations on whether the signatures on ballots match those on file with the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office.
Judge James with the Third District Court stopped short of making a ruling Thursday. Gardner said after the hearing in West Jordan that he knew he needed to present an opinion quickly, though he did not say how soon to expect his ruling.
The lawsuit comes in the midst of an increasingly tight bid for Love’s re-election. The last batch of election results, released Thursday, shows Democratic candidate Ben McAdams leading Love by 1,002 votes — less than half a percent of the total vote.
McAdams has consistently beat Love in Salt Lake County results, while Love has overwhelmingly taken the vote in the other three counties that make up the 4th Congressional District: Utah, Juab and Sanpete.
According to the complaint, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen has allowed monitors to observe the process of signature verification by county workers, but has not allowed a way for those monitors to challenge those determinations.
Matching the signature on a mail-in or provisional ballot with county records is part of the process for verifying votes.
The attorney representing Love, Robert Harrington, argued that Salt Lake County’s affidavits, which are used to verify ballots where the signatures don’t match, aren’t up to state code because they don’t require verification such as a Social Security number or a driver’s license number. There’s also nothing on the affidavit requiring the person filling it out to verify whether or not they voted in the vote-by-mail election, Harrington said.
Bridget Romano, with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, argued that there is no reason for someone who did not previously mail in a ballot to fill out the voter affidavit.
About 3,000 affidavits have been sent out to voters whose signatures did not match or who did not sign their ballot at all, Swensen said after the hearing. About 850 of those have been received back by the county, while the rest are outstanding and have until 5 p.m. Monday to respond.
That means if the judge rules in Love’s favor, Swensen would be forced to find other means of contacting those voters about their ballots, Romano said.
People who have already filled out the affidavit and had it approved have already had their votes counted, and there’s no way to reverse that, Romano said.
Romano stressed that if there was a problem with the affidavit, it should have been brought up long ago, not at the virtual end of the election cycle.
Attorney Loren Washburn, representing McAdams, questioned why the suit has only been filed in Salt Lake County. He presented a copy of Utah County’s affidavit, which similarly did not require a driver’s license or Social Security number to verify the person filling it out.
Judge Gardner pushed Harrington on why he only filed the suit in Salt Lake County, and not in all four counties that make up the 4th Congressional District.
Harrington said that specific issues were seen in Salt Lake County, and that time was of the essence, and Salt Lake County makes up 85 percent of the district.
After the hearing, Swensen said she believes her office’s affidavit and verification process are adequate.
“If they send (the affidavit) back and we do another signature comparison for the record we have on file, I don’t know what more you can ask than that,” Swensen said. “Our diligence in that has been tremendous. It’s a very labor intensive process.”
McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, called the suit a “Thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise voters in Salt Lake County, and Salt Lake County only.”
“Voters from throughout the 4th District, and Utah as a whole, should be deeply disturbed by this,” Roberts said.
After the hearing, Harrington said he looks forward to the judge’s decision.
“We think the county has a serious problem with respect to its voter affidavit that it uses as an exclusive means to verify otherwise defective ballots,” Harrington said. “And we were able to communicate that with the court today.”