Republican candidate for Salt Lake County clerk files a lawsuit against her opponent with election nearing

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sherrie Swensen (left) and Rozan Mitchell, who are running for Salt Lake County Clerk.

Just days before the midterm elections, the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County clerk has filed suit against her boss and Democratic opponent, Sherrie Swensen, over missing ballots.

Swensen, who has been the county clerk since 1991, called the suit by her on-leave elections director a political stunt aimed at boosting her campaign.

The suit filed Thursday by Rozan Mitchell and Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who’s running for election in Senate District 11, contends that Swensen did not ensure an unknown number of by-mail ballots made it to Salt Lake County residents in a timely manner.

Third District Court Judge Robert Faust will hear the case on Monday. The candidates are asking he order Swensen to issue a mailed apology to voters informing them of alternative voting options and to require her to provide a list of each affected voter, which they say Swensen has said doesn’t exist.

“We want that information so at this point we could reach out to those voters and make sure that they knew they had options,” Mitchell told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “We wanted to make sure that we had an accurate list of who those were. And it’s just we’ve been met with so many obstacles at trying to get that list that we felt that we were pushed into needing to go this way.”

Justin Lee, director of elections in the Lt. Gov’s office, said there’s no specific timeline in Utah law for when exactly ballots need to hit mailboxes.

“They just have to be mailed no later than 21 days before the election,” he said.

The lawsuit contends there are discrepancies between Swensen’s statements to the media about when and how many ballots were mailed in the first batch and that they believe between 14,000 and 32,000 ballots were not mailed in a timely manner.

Swensen disputes that claim and told The Tribune in early October that the county sent out a first batch of 500,000 ballots to registered voters four weeks early — earlier than any other county — in an effort to give voters with incorrect registration information time to update their addresses and get them a by-mail ballot.

After an error with the ballot printer the county contracts with, Swensen found out on Oct. 15 that the company had run short on envelopes and was unable to send out a number of ballots. That caused a delay in getting ballots to some voters who had recently registered or changed their address, but she says the printer told her the remaining ballots were mailed between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28. Ballots mailed out after Oct. 24 were mailed and printed locally in an effort to get them out faster, she said.

Confusion over news reports about the error with the Washington-based ballot printer may have led to the lawsuit, but Swensen said all the ballots were mailed out correctly in the first batch and that everyone who made changes after that point should now have a ballot in hand.

“We have gone above and beyond to try to make sure that we get a ballot to everyone,” she said.

McCay and Mitchell said in a press release that Swensen “has blamed the printing company for the delays, but has done nothing to ensure voters will get ballots in time.” And their lawsuit contends “there is no way to confirm” if the ballots have actually been mailed out aside from the printer’s word.

Taking into consideration the timing of the lawsuit — which comes on the heels of Republican complaints on Thursday that conservative voters were being disenfranchised by the location of polling places — and Mitchell’s involvement, Swensen said she thinks the suit is politically motivated.

“It’s a political ploy,” she said. “I have no doubt. [Mitchell] knows better than anyone what the process is.”

But Mitchell says McCay reached out to her after media reports that ballots hadn’t made it to voters and that she didn’t instigate the suit.

“More than it being political because I’m a candidate it’s because I love elections,” she said. “Elections are important to me and I want voters to be able to vote.”