Democrats' votes challenged
For 23 years, Carol Sheehan and her husband, Frank, have lived in the same Holladay neighborhood and their politics have remained about as constant as their address.
"My ballot is so stiff it doesn't bend," Carol Sheehan said. "It is very straight Democrat."
But Thursday, her right to place that Democratic vote was challenged by a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives - who also challenged the legal registration of 1,495 other residents in House District 37.
Republican candidate Brice Derek Carsno claims all of those residents do not live in the precincts they are registered in and therefore should not have the right to punch a ballot Tuesday.
State and county election officials, however, disagree and at least one says Carsno's challenge could be criminal.
"There is no validity to his claims," Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said Saturday. "It looks to me like what he has done is challenge everyone with another political affiliation than his own."
Swensen, a Democrat, has spot-checked a couple of hundred names on the list Carsno provided and found that all live in House District 37 and all are legally registered.
Almost all are Democrats as well, other than one voter registered as a member of the Reform Party and one from the American Party. No name she has checked on the list is an unaffiliated voter or a Republican.
One of those voters is Barbara Kidrick, who has lived in Holladay for five years. She voted by absentee ballot last week, days before Swensen called to verify her address.
"I didn't expect this in Utah," she said, referring to claims of voter disenfranchisement in swing states in the close presidential election.
Carsno said a campaign staffer provided him the list, but he refused to say why his campaign questioned the voter registration of the 1,496 people.
"I followed the letter of the law, and the law states that any voter may challenge any other voter," he said.
But state elections director Amy Naccarato says Carsno misused that statute.
"The law says you need to challenge each person and give a basis for each individual challenge," said Naccarato, who works for Republican Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie. "Turning in hundreds and hundreds of names without any grounds is a little bit over the top in my opinion. It has the potential to create chaos at those precincts."
Swensen has never received a mass challenge such as this and said even individual challenges are rare.
If Swensen had decided that Carsno's claims were legitimate, all 1,496 voters would have had to fill out a provisional ballot after showing proof of residence, which is exactly what Carsno said he expected to happen. The process would slow down the collection and counting of those votes.
Swensen says Carsno is trying to turn the new provisional ballot law on its head.
"It is taking a law that is meant to protect voter integrity and abusing it, trying to intimidate voters from voting," she said.
State law says voter intimidation can result in a class B misdemeanor - and voter intimidation in a federal election could result in a federal crime.
Swensen plans to meet with members of the county District Attorney's Office on Monday. She has also contacted the U.S. Department of Justice.
"This is not to intimidate at all," Carsno said. "The intent was to verify that the individuals voting are registered in the district."
Swensen plans to present Carsno with a letter Monday saying she has found no merit to his challenge.
"Where did he learn his politics, in Florida?" said Carol Spackman Moss, the Democratic incumbent in House District 37. "I am just amazed he spent time on this stuff."
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