Surveillance at ballot drop boxes and photo ID requirements for new voters: New Utah bill would tighten election laws

The sweeping legislation would also require election officials to sign affidavits that they followed state security protocols.

A sweeping new election security bill would mandate 24-hour video surveillance at Utah’s ballot drop boxes and require first-time voters to show photo identification to participate in an election.

The legislation unveiled Thursday by Rep. Jon Hawkins would also require voters to write their driver license number, voter identification number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their mail-in ballot envelope before returning it. In a new verification step, poll workers would compare the number to the information on file about the voter to make sure they match, according to the bill.

First-time voters would have to show their driver license or state identification card at the polling place or include a copy of these identifications with their mail-in ballots, HB313 states.

The lieutenant governor’s office would also have to develop security requirements for Utah elections officials, relating to the handling and “documentation of custody” of ballots. Election officials would have to sign an affidavit after every election, certifying that they complied with these rules and have properly maintained the voter rolls under their supervision.

The state would also have to create minimum standards for vendors that print ballots in Utah and establish “software validation procedures” meant to ensure no one can tamper with voter files.

Video cameras would be stationed near each ballot drop box with a sign posted nearby to notify people that the premises are monitored around the clock.

The bill would require the lieutenant governor’s office to audit the state’s voter registration records on at least a yearly basis; mandate that local election officials keep detailed records for maintenance work on voting machines; and prohibit tabulation machines or ballot scanners from ever being connected to the internet.

Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz told reporters Friday that Hawkins has spent several months working on the bill with county clerks and the governor’s office.

“As it goes through the process, I think it will get refined to the point where we feel comfortable,” Schultz, R-Hooper, said.”

Ryan Cowley, the state’s elections director, said in a prepared statement that he appreciates some of the bill’s suggestions for a voter registration audit and strengthening the “ballot chain of custody requirements.”

“We do have some concerns with the bill as it is written, and appreciate Representative Hawkins is taking the time to hear our concerns and ideas as we work to improve how elections run in Utah,” he said.

Republican legislatures across the nation have been tightening election laws and increasing voting restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of massive fraud in the 2020 election.

In Utah, a citizens group is trying to put an initiative on the ballot that would effectively do away with the state’s vote-by-mail system, which has been broadly touted as a success and credited with increasing election participation.

Katie Matheson, deputy director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said Hawkins’ bill would make it harder for Utahns to vote and that advances “a dangerous narrative which weakens our institutions and makes it harder for government to deliver on the needs of the people.”

“Utah already has gold-standard security measures in place for our elections,” she said in a statement. “Lawmakers should spend less time trying to restrict the freedom to vote and more time making sure Utahns have breathable air, thriving public schools, and a healthcare system not on the brink of collapse.”

Utah lawmakers have also directed legislative auditors to conduct an election integrity inquiry. Schultz has asserted the review is not related to the 2020 elections and would help increase public confidence in voting security.

However, Democratic lawmakers opposed the move as unnecessary and potentially stoking suspicions in the state’s electoral system.

Gov. Spencer Cox has condemned efforts to undermine voter access, blasting “unsubstantiated claims and flat-out lies” that have created unwarranted doubts about election security.

“There’s this ... misconception that ... in order to have secure elections you have to make it harder for people to vote, and we believe that that’s a false choice. That’s a false dichotomy,” Cox said in a virtual summit late last month.