Amelia Powers won’t officially be sworn in as Utah County’s new Clerk/Auditor until January, but she is already working behind the scenes looking for ways to improve Utah County’s elections process.
Election snafus in the past were the driving reason behind her filing for the position, Powers said. Working as a business consultant, her original intent wasn’t to run for public office at all — she was actually calling around trying to recruit someone else to run for the position. When the filing deadline was one day away and no one else had expressed interest in running, Powers decided to take the plunge.
Powers worked for construction machinery company Caterpillar for years before moving back to Utah County to start her consulting business. At Caterpillar, part of her job was consulting with dealerships and helping them be more efficient to sell more products, and she plans to use those consulting skills to bring major changes to a Utah County Clerk’s office that has been plagued in recent elections with major complications, like sending the wrong ballots to 68,000 voters in the 2017 primary, or having people waiting in line for hours to vote in the 2018 midterm election.
Powers has had a clear path to the Clerk/Auditor’s office for months now, taking a high enough percentage of the vote at the Utah County Republican Convention in April to avoid a primary with sitting Utah County Clerk, Bryan Thompson. She’s been using that time to figure out how to keep Utah County from being in the spotlight around election time for all the wrong reasons.
Powers said she has consulted with multiple industry experts to figure out what exactly needs fixed to make Utah County elections run a more smoothly. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome immediately is that Utah County does not have enough voting machines or vote counting machines to service its growing population.
Three different industry experts told Powers that in a presidential election year, it would take 250 voting machines to serve Utah County. Utah County currently owns 90 such machines. Even with Utah County renting 10 voting machines for this midterm, that’s still less than half the number of machines needed to serve the population, Powers said.
It’s a similar story with ballot-counting machines, Powers said. Utah County currently has three scanners that count 100 ballots a minute. Industry experts told Powers that Utah County needs two to four scanners that can scan three times that many ballots per minute.
Powers spent much of these midterms observing in the elections office, and said voting and counting both took substantial amounts of time because necessary equipment is lacking.
“It just took a long time, and it took a long time because we don’t have the ability to service the population that we have,” Powers said.
But that equipment costs money, and Powers said she’ll need approximately $2.5 million to prepare for the next presidential election in 2020. She’s already identified about $1 million in grants from the state that Utah County qualifies for and can apply for.
Powers has also been in conversations with the three Utah County Commissioners, who control the clerk/auditor’s budget, about needing additional funding for elections equipment. Powers said she plans to submit an addendum to the 2019 budget submitted by Thompson, asking for an increase in the clerk/auditor’s budget.
Even if she can’t get the entire $2.5 million before 2020, Powers said it could be possible to purchase the most important equipment with the $1 million in grants, then rent other equipment that may only be needed in presidential election years when voter turnout is much higher.
Another high-priority ask, Powers said, will be that of an elections director, a position that was eliminated from the office years ago.
“We have disorganized elections, and eliminated a position that counties half our size have,” Powers said. “That’s going to be probably my number one ask.”
Asking for the budget increases will be a challenge, Powers said, as she is typically a low-tax person herself. She said she voted no on every proposition or issue on the ballot this year that included a tax increase.
“But I recognize that this office is truly underfunded and it’s one necessary to serve citizens in the elections arena,” Powers said.
Powers said she’ll continue to look for ways to increase efficiencies in the office.
“Every time I find (a problem), I also find resources,” Powers said.
Powers will be doing all this as likely the first-ever female Utah County Clerk, a fact she says doesn’t daunt her. Utah County does not keep a recorded list of past Utah County Clerk/Auditors, but meeting minutes online show that all county clerks from 1995 to present were male.
Though Powers said she didn’t realize when she first filed that she would likely be the first elected female clerk/auditor, she soon started fielding questions from delegates about it.
As far as being the first, Powers said she couldn’t believe it.
“It’s crazy to me,” Powers said.
But having worked in the automotive and construction industries previously, Powers said she won’t be phased by being the only woman in county department head meetings.
During her time at Caterpillar, Powers said there was a time she was the only female service rep in her division in the world.
“I tend to have a very technical brain,” Powers said. “... I have had a very untypical career. I think it’s interesting, but it didn’t even phase me because that’s how my career has been.”