Errors led to rejection of thousands of votes in this month's Utah elections

Some ballots were postmarked too late, unsigned — or even supposedly cast by dead people.<br>

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune A voter drops her ballot at an official ballot drop box that doesn't need a post date at the Salt Lake County complex on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Did you hear the one about the hundreds of Utah County residents whose votes were rejected because they mailed them too late, forgot to sign them, sent in envelopes with no ballots or even tried casting votes for dead people?

It’s no joke.

All of that really happened, according to the state canvass of the special 3rd District Congressional election. That final official vote count occurred Monday, even though winning Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, was sworn into office two weeks ago.

State Auditor John Dougall — who along with the state treasurer, attorney general and lieutenant governor form the Board of Canvassers — requested data about why any votes were rejected.

Officials reported Monday that errors invalidated 2,419 votes in the race, and 1,684 of them — or 70 percent — were in Utah County.

These so-called spoiled ballots included 974 by-mail ballots that were rejected for having postmarks that were too late.

Justin Lee, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, noted this was the first general election in which Utah County voted by mail — and many residents may not have realized that their ballots must be postmarked before Election Day. Otherwise, they must be dropped off at in-person voting centers.

“There’s a learning curve. We’ve seen that in every jurisdiction that goes to vote-by-mail,” Lee said. “You’ve seen in other counties that have done this for a few cycles that the voters are much better at it and understand what is needed.”

Another 560 Utah County voters had ballots rejected because the signatures on them did not match the signatures on file.

Some 127 were rejected there because the ballots were not signed at all, and nine people sent in envelopes but forgot to put their ballots inside.

Finally, 10 Utah County ballots were rejected because the supposed voters had died. That did not occur in any other county.

Dougall said he wanted the information to help educate voters in future elections how to ensure their votes actually count.

For the record, 162,120 votes were cast in the election, representing a turnout of 43 percent of registered voters. Grand County had the highest turnout at 64.7 percent, and Emery was the lowest at 27.7 percent.

Emery and Carbon County, where the turnout was 33.3 percent, were the only two of the seven counties in the district where voters cast ballots in person — and Lee noted the turnout there was lower than in all of the counties that voted by mail.

Curtis won officially with 58 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Kathie Allen, 25.6 percent; United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett, 9.3 percent; unaffiliated candidate Sean Whalen, 3.1 percent; Libertarian Joe Buchman, 2.5 percent; and Independent American Party candidate Jason Christensen, 1.5 percent.

Curtis won six of the seven counties in the district, including Salt Lake County. Allen managed to win only in Grand County.