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There’s an innocuous-looking item on Wednesday’s Judiciary Interim Committee agenda titled “Election Integrity,” which says the panel will “hear presentations on perspectives regarding election integrity.” In reality, the event has turned into a rallying point for right-wing groups who are pushing for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Utah.
There’s a coordinated effort on social media to turn the meeting into a show of force, which activists hope will be a springboard to pressure lawmakers into launching an Arizona-style audit of the election results. It’s important to note that former President Donald Trump won Utah by nearly 21 points over Joe Biden.
One message in a Telegram group focused on auditing Utah’s election results says the Wednesday meeting is “the lynchpin (sic) for an audit.” There’s also a premeeting rally scheduled for Wednesday at 11.
“This committee is FRIENDLY and should be treated as an ally (for now) w/out hostility or accusation,” the post reads.
The item was placed on the agenda by House co-chair Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield.
“Since the beginning of this interim, election integrity has been an approved study item on our list. For this agenda item we invited the county clerks, the lieutenant governor and anyone who is working on a bill in this policy space to participate in the committee discussion,” Lisonbee said via text message.
“Based on the numerous emails we have received, we know that many Utahns are interested in this issue. We hope this hearing provides all stakeholders, including the public, an opportunity to share their perspectives, present information and discuss policy proposals,” she added.
Lisonbee did not answer whether she favors an audit of the election, but the committee is giving a prime speaking slot to Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-South Jordan, who has become one of the leaders of the effort to audit the election results. Biden bested Trump in Salt Lake County by nearly 11 percentage points.
Christiansen has been pushing for an audit of Utah’s elections since right after the 2020 election when he asked the Legislative Audit Committee to review the vote in Salt Lake County. That committee, made up of legislative leadership, has not yet acted on his request.
In June, Christiansen traveled to Arizona to observe the controversial Republican-led audit of more than 2.1 million votes in Maricopa County. The final report showed Joe Biden won by more votes than was reported on Election Day. Still, supporters of Trump claim the audit showed evidence of voter fraud (it didn’t) or it turned up 17,000 duplicate votes (not true), or that lost votes affected the outcome (another falsehood).
In August, Christiansen and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, attended a cyber symposium in South Dakota hosted by “My Pillow” maven Mike Lindell. At the time, Christiansen said he was disappointed the event did not deliver on Lindell’s promised proof of election fraud. Despite that, Christiansen has supported Lindell’s conspiracies about the 2020 election. Christiansen and Lyman also joined an “election integrity caucus” made up of state lawmakers from across the country who want to see an audit of the 2020 election in every state. Pennsylvania is already planning to follow suit, while other states are considering similar moves.
Will it happen in Utah? Maybe.
The Utah Legislature has the power to issue subpoenas as well. Utah code empowers the Senate president, House speaker and the chair of any legislative standing committee or interim committee to issue subpoenas.
The Arizona audit was fueled by subpoenas issued by Senate President Karen Fann and Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen demanding information from election supervisors in Maricopa County.
It’s certainly possible that Wednesday’s committee meeting could lead to a similar subpoena-fueled audit. But here’s a possible roadblock. Interim committees have a House and Senate chair, so there’s not a single person in charge. And Utah code clarifies that any subpoena must include “the name of the legislative body or office on whose behalf the subpoena is issued.” This suggests that any decision to issue a subpoena would be subject to a committee vote.
Because interim committees are made up of both House and Senate members, any vote must get a majority from both bodies, not just the committee as a whole. There are five Senators and 12 Representatives on the committee. A subpoena would require a “yes” vote from three Senators and seven Representatives.
No matter what happens Wednesday, the push for an audit won’t subside anytime soon. Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, one of the loudest backers of that state’s audit, is scheduled to speak about election integrity in Salt Lake City this coming weekend at a far-right conference. Christiansen is also listed as a featured speaker on the program.