After Utah legislator visits Arizona to observe election audit, he says Salt Lake County needs one

Republican Rep. Steve Christiansen traveled to Arizona last week to watch 2020 Election recount

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, traveled to Arizona to observe the GOP-led election audit in Maricopa County. He says he would like to see a similar audit of Salt Lake County's election results.

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Utah Rep. Steve Christiansen trekked to Arizona last week to observe an ongoing audit of more than 2.1 million votes in Maricopa County. The West Jordan Republican says he’d like every state to conduct a similar audit of the 2020 election, including Utah.

The Republican-controlled state Senate in Arizona authorized a full hand recount of votes in the state’s largest county after Republican Donald Trump lost the state to Democrat Joe Biden by 10,477 votes. Biden won Maricopa County by 45,109 votes.

The state Senate took control of the ballots and election machines and turned them over to be audited by a private firm.

At one point, investigators were reportedly examining whether the ballots contained bamboo fiber on the suspicion that thousands of fake ballots for Biden had been flown in from China.

“I would love to see an audit conducted in Utah, especially Salt Lake County, that mirrors this audit right here,” Christiansen told right-wing news outlet One America News during his visit.

Biden bested Trump in Salt Lake County by more than 11 percentage points, and Trump won the state by more than 20 points.

Christiansen may find his quest hard to fulfill. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said it’s a simple question of cost versus benefit. The county does not use machines from Dominion, which has faced baseless allegations of election fraud.

“This is all based on a preliminary investigation,” Christiansen told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There are rumors out there that there may be issues with that equipment, but I’m not sure that’s been proven one way or the other.”

Some of the fantastical rumors swirling around Dominion include allegations their machines switched votes in several states from Biden to Trump. Other conspiracy theories include the company is either linked to Antifa or Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan dictator. None of those is true.

In fact, the government agency in charge of election security said the 2020 vote was the “most secure in election history.”

Legislative sources tell The Tribune that Christiansen requested the audit of Salt Lake County in December 2020. Specifically, he wanted to know whether the county’s voting equipment or tabulation machines could be accessed via the internet.

(Matt York | AP) Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, May 6, 2021.

Legislative leaders were not in favor of moving forward with that audit.

Longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says the county uses Diebold machines that were purchased in 2005 as part of the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress.

Diebold was sold in 2010 to ES&S, which was purchased by Dominion Voting Systems in 2010. Swensen says their tabulation scanners run on Dominion Assurance software, which was purchased in 2013. Both the machines and counting software are certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which requires rigorous testing.

Christiansen’s concerns about the county’s election systems came as a surprise to Swensen.

“I’ve never heard from him,” Swensen said. “I would love to have him come in and witness one of our accuracy tests. We offer tours all of the time.”

Swensen says the county’s voting equipment is not connected to the internet, and its counting machines are stand-alone.

“We had Homeland Security come in before the election to analyze our election management center. They said they were satisfied our process was secure,” she said.

“We do tests to make sure every candidate’s vote total is being tabulated correctly. If there was anything wrong with the software, it would be caught in that process.”

Before the 2020 election, the logic and accuracy test conducted by Swensen’s office was conducted in public. She says a representative from the state auditor’s office attended to verify its accuracy.

Swensen points to the 2016 election in House District 32 between Republican LaVar Christensen and Democrat Suzanne Harrison, which Christensen won by just 5 votes out of more than 17,000 ballots.

“We had a thorough recount. Everyone was watching,” Swensen said. “I have total confidence in our process.”

For his part, Adams said he “has not been made aware of any irregularities.”

“If there were, I think we would investigate regardless,” Adams said. “The difference in what Arizona is doing and here is most of the elections in Utah weren’t very close.”

Adams says he’s spoken several times with Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and is supportive of the audit efforts there. Adams demurred when asked if he felt the 2020 election was free and fair.

“Let’s wait and see what Arizona comes up with. Isn’t it right to go investigate it and look at it?” he asked. “I don’t know if it was fair or not. I just want to find out.”