Complaining of election ‘anomalies,’ Utah Rep. Phil Lyman unveils bill to eliminate state’s mail-in voting system

Under the legislation, officials would have to take pictures of each ballot and post images online.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Ballots are sorted at the Salt Lake County offices in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

A Utah lawmaker is trying to get rid of the state’s mail-in voting system with a bill that would also require independent audits following elections and demand that officials post images of each counted ballot online for people to check.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Phil Lyman comes as a ballot initiative to end the state’s vote-by-mail system appears to be faltering.

There’s been a push by Republicans across the nation to restrict or end mail-in voting in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that the method leads to widespread fraud.

In Utah, GOP leaders such as Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson have defended the state’s mail-in system as safe and secure. And Henderson, whose office oversees elections in the state, said she opposes arbitrary measures that make it harder for citizens to vote — for example, by eliminating all options except casting a ballot in person on Election Day.

Lyman, R-Blanding, says he does not believe claims that there was no fraud in the 2020 election.

“I don’t believe it because I look at it and see these anomalies that they can’t explain,” Lyman said.

What kind of anomalies? Lyman claims there are several precincts in Salt Lake County that recorded more votes in 2020 than there are voters.

“How do you explain that? They can’t. It demands an explanation,” Lyman said.

Lyman said he would provide data to back up those claims, but has not provided that information as of yet.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says the main reason for the discrepancy is more than 20% of voters in the county have elected to keep their information private. That information would not be included with any public voter information, making it impossible to square the 2020 results with publicly available information. Changes to the voter registration database are another reason.

“Some of these groups alleging fraud are using a voter list from June of 2021 and trying to connect that to the 2020 results. Of course, it’s not going to match up,” Swensen said.

Lyman’s bill, HB371, would return the state to a system primarily reliant on voting at a polling place. Absentee ballots would be allowed in limited cases for people who can’t vote in-person because of old age, hospitalization or disability or because they’ll be out-of-state.

The legislation also requires an independent audit for results in each federal and gubernatorial general election race in which the victor won by less than 15 percentage points. As part of the audit, clerks in the randomly selected precincts would have to hand-count ballots and compare them with the reported vote tally.

Lyman also wants cameras to record the vote-counting process in all elections, with images of each ballot posted online “in a manner that the ballot may be viewed, and the votes on the ballot counted, by any individual.” The ballot images would have to stay online for at least a year after the election, according to the bill.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he was not familiar with Lyman’s proposal.

“I’d have a hard time completely getting rid of vote-by-mail. It seems to have been working great. People really like it. But, it might be a good time to have a conversation to see how well vote-by-mail is working,” Wilson said.

The legislation will now be considered in the Utah House of Representatives.