Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson says as a conservative who believes in limited government, she doesn’t think the state should make unnecessary rules — especially when it comes to voting.
She made the comment Thursday evening at a Spanish Fork town hall, responding to an audience question about why requiring in-person voting with a form of photo identification is “akin to Jim Crow laws.”
Henderson said that comparison isn’t accurate on its face. But she said she is concerned about making it harder to exercise the constitutional right to vote, such as by forcing people to cast a ballot only in person, on paper and with a pen or pencil.
“Arbitrarily restricting access to the ballot is a violation of people’s constitutional right,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s the proper role of government to arbitrarily make things difficult for people.”
“It’s worked for a hundred years,” one woman interjected from the audience.
“We used to also ride horses everywhere, but now we drive cars,” Henderson said. “It’s very fair to be concerned. But it’s also fair, I think, to look at what actually is happening and to look at ways we can improve.”
Part of Henderson’s responsibility as lieutenant governor is to oversee the state’s elections system, and she said she takes seriously her duty of safeguarding its security and promoting voter confidence. That’s one reason she decided to hold Thursday night’s meeting in the first place, she said.
The future of democracy is at stake, she continued.
“If we can’t rely on being able to go to the ballot box and voice our displeasure or our satisfaction through our vote, then we’ve lost our republic,” she said. “And that, to me, is incredibly frightening.”
Gov. Spencer Cox and Henderson have both been defending Utah’s election system against attempts to cast doubt on it.
In his State of the State address last month, Cox expressed concern that “unsubstantiated claims and flat-out lies” about elections are undermining the nation’s system of governance.
Here are some of the questions Henderson fielded and the answers that she and state elections director Ryan Cowley gave:
Are mail-in ballots trustworthy, or can they open the door for fraud?
The short answer, Henderson said, is that they are safe and secure.
But she elaborated on the safeguards the state has set up to prevent people from abusing the mail-in system.
First of all, fraudulently registering to vote and casting multiple ballots are crimes, she said. Moreover, each mail-in envelope has a unique bar code that identifies the voter whose ballot is inside. Elections officials scan the envelope codes when the ballots arrive to ensure that the person can’t vote more than once, she said.
A 2019 audit conducted by the Legislature, she noted, concluded that the state’s election precautions prevented people from voting multiple times and were robust enough to prevent fraud.
Utah also compares signatures on ballot envelopes with what the state has on file for the voter to verify the person’s identity, she said.
Why is a forensic audit not allowed in Utah?
“First of all, the term forensic audit when it comes to elections is something that’s fairly new,” Henderson responded. “I don’t know if anyone had heard of that in conjunction with an election before the 2020 election.”
For that reason, it’s not entirely clear what people mean when they ask for this type of review, she said.
However, Utah does audit its elections, she said.
Cowley later explained that following an election, officials check a random sampling of ballots to make sure that the machines were tabulating them correctly.
After vote totals are officially certified, federal law requires officials to seal election returns for 22 months and then to destroy them without opening them.
“I have to follow the law, and the law says that those returns are sealed except under a court order,” she said.
What voting software does Utah use? Does it have the capability of being hooked up to the internet?
Cowley said one county in Utah uses Unisyn Voting Solutions, and Salt Lake County uses Dominion Voting Systems. The rest of Utah’s counties rely on Election Systems & Software, he said.
None of these systems can connect to the internet, Cowley continued.
“That’s a critical component of security when you talk about elections,” he said. “Not only would somebody not be able to manipulate things electronically, we prevent that physically, as well.”
All of Utah’s election equipment is independently tested to ensure the software is secure, he said.
How can we fight misinformation when so many voters believe in fake facts?
Henderson said the best way of battling falsehoods is by studying up on correct information.
For example, Utahns can take a tour of their county clerk’s offices and ask questions about the election processes in place for their area, she said.
“You may not like the process. You may not like mail-in voting, and that’s OK,” she said. “But we want to make sure people understand that that process is secure and votes are counted accurately.”