House Republicans strip out references to vote-by-mail from resolution touting Utah’s 2020 election

Some lawmakers say their constituents were angered by claims of election fraud.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Heather Jones drops her ballot at the drop-off location in Lehi, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Utah lawmakers watered down a resolution praising Utah's 2020 election results, removing references to vote-by-mail.

Lingering upset over the 2020 election leaked onto the Utah House floor Tuesday afternoon as Republicans watered down a resolution seeking to recognize the success of the 2020 election, removing a section praising the use of mail-in ballots in Utah.

The original version of HCR11 from Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, touted the highest voter turnout in recent Utah election history and gave much of the credit to the use of mail-in balloting, which has been the norm in Utah for several elections.

But, suspicion of mail-in voting was the subject of baseless claims of voter fraud from former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters. For instance, there were misleading claims that vote-by-mail was less secure than in-person voting or that mail ballots were being cast for voters who had died.

So, heaping praise on Utah’s use of an election method that has proved quite successful for the state was a bridge too far for many Republicans.

“I have been getting my email lit up by people who were not exactly thrilled with everything about the 2020 election,” said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. “There’s a significant difference in opinion in my district about whether mail-in balloting is correct. There’s a significant difference of opinion about how fraud was handled across the country.”

“Success is something that’s definitely in the eye of the beholder,” said Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding. “There are a lot of people who didn’t feel like mail-in voting was the ideal model.”

Briscoe said it was difficult to separate the success of Utah’s election from the issue of vote-by-mail since that method proved crucial this year because of the hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The concept of vote-by-mail is crucial to the success of our election. If 92% of the people in Utah had not voted by mail, we would have exposed a lot more election workers and volunteers to coronavirus,” said Briscoe. “We didn’t have this many people vote as a percentage since 1964. There are some counties in Utah that have been voting by mail since 2012.”

Thurston said many of his constituents objected to language in the resolution citing “no accounts or charges of significant election fraud in Utah.”

The House action to strip out reference to by-mail voting was roundly criticized by the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah.

“After witnessing numerous unfounded claims about the 2020 election over recent months, including legal challenges and an attack on the U.S. Capitol, it’s disappointing that more than half of Utah’s state representatives would choose to further undermine public confidence in the past election,” said the group’s policy director, Lauren Simpson.

The substitute resolution, which was narrowly approved on the floor, removed all of the references to vote-by-mail, instead offering praise for Utah’s astronomical voter turnout and lauding Utah’s election workers, particularly county clerks.

“There are parts of this I struggled with because I know my constituents would struggle with them, but I am looking forward to the chance to honor those clerks who did so well. There’s no question we need to honor the people who did the hard work,” said Rep. Mike Petersen, R-Logan.

The substitute resolution was approved by a 43-28 vote and now heads to the Senate.