Mormon women, political activists rally to get-out-the-vote in confusing 3rd District special election


(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Salt Lake Indivisible and Action Utah members rally against the confusing process of special election to fill Chaffetz' 3rd District seat outside the historical courthouse in Provo Monday Aug 14.

Provo • When Jocelyn Dorton heads to the polls Tuesday, it will be to cast a ballot in the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary race for the second time.

An excited first-time voter, the 18-year-old said she filled out the mail-in ballot she received from Utah County weeks ago, only to learn later her vote would not count, because she had not registered as a Republican.

“I was really confused,” Dorton told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview. “It didn’t make sense.”

Dorton is far from alone in her frustration, says Sharlee Mullins Glenn of Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG). In the weeks since Utah County accidentally sent 3rd District primary ballots to 68,000 unaffiliated voters, dozens of similar stories have poured in, leaving many voters confused, Glenn said.

The miscommunication and misinformation prompted MWEG to partner with Salt Lake Indivisible and Action Utah for a small get-out-the-vote rally in downtown Provo on Monday at noon.

“We want to ensure that every single person who is eligible to vote in the primary has accurate information so that this can be an open and fair election,” Megan Seawright of MEWG told the crowd of two dozen gathered outside the old county courthouse. “We face a critical election in Utah this week. One that will impact not just our state, but the entire nation.”

Republican voters hold a majority statewide, but at 37 percent of all registered voters, unaffiliated voters make up the second-largest bloc of voters.

“That’s a huge number,” Glenn said before the rally. “They live in the district, they pay their taxes and they certainly have the right to vote, but so many of them think they can’t.”

That isn’t true, even though many have been told so in calls to county clerk offices, Glenn said.

Even though the Republican primary — a special election to replace Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who stepped down in June — is closed, unaffiliated voters can register with the party Tuesday at the polls and cast a provisional ballot, Glenn said.

Utah County election officials discovered the ballot error July 25, after three people called to ask why they were allowed to vote in the primary election.

County officials have said a clerical error caused the mistake. The county sought to correct the error by sending out postcards explaining that votes cast by mail from unaffiliated voters would not be counted. Votes cast in any nonpartisan municipal races, which were included on the same ballots, would be counted, the postcard said.

Glenn’s own son received one of the postcards, which also instructed voters who had not yet filled out a ballot to toss it out, she said.

Two weeks later, however, another postcard arrived, instructing voters to bring their uncast ballots with them to the polls Aug. 15 and surrender them to election officials, she said.

“That caused a lot of confusion,” said Glenn. “We called the Utah County clerk multiple times and even the people at the clerk’s office were confused.”

Voters who contacted MWEG said they had been told by officials in Wasatch County, where some 1,500 congressional primary ballots were sent to unaffiliated voters, that they would not be allowed to vote Tuesday, according to Glenn.

Dorton’s mother, Justine Dorton, said Monday she made repeated calls to the Utah County clerk’s office before finally getting an answer about whether her daughter can vote. Now that they know she can, Justine Dorton said, she plans to drive Jocelyn to the polls first thing Tuesday.

But she's worried that others like her daughter might still be thinking they have to stay away.

“I am a little concerned that [election officials] are not shouting this from the rooftops,” Justine Dorton told those gathered. 

Election officials say they’ve been working overtime to ensure that the mix-ups in both counties won’t have an adverse effect on election results.

The state elections office issued a clarification over the weekend. In part it said: “An unaffiliated voter can still vote in the Republican primary election by appearing at the polls on Election Day, affiliating with the Republican Party, and completing a provisional ballot.”

But many rallygoers said the ballot issues, combined with other registration problems they've either heard about or experienced don't leave them feeling confident. 

Donna Dalton, who has lived in the same Provo home for 45 years, said she and her husband both specifically registered online as a Republicans to vote in the special election, but have since been told that the county only has David Dalton on the GOP rolls.

She was sent a ballot with only the municipal primary on it and the county now won’t allow her to register as a Republican and vote in the 3rd District race, she said. Donna Dalton said she's argued with the clerk’s office, but it looks like she may be out of luck.

“Am I mad?” said Dalton, who has served as a Utah County poll worker for 20 years. “Disgusted.”