Proposal to upend Utah’s election system finds little support

Utah elections officials said ‘Secure the Vote’ organizers had only submitted a little more than 5,700 signatures.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Backers of the “Secure the Vote” initiative to end Utah’s mail-in voting petition for signatures as they attend a hearing at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. Supporters have until Feb. 15 to submit 137,929 total signatures to try and get on the November ballot.

Backers of a ballot initiative to scrap Utah’s universal mail-in voting in favor of same-day paper ballots admitted defeat on Wednesday after falling far short of gathering the number of signatures needed to qualify for November’s ballot.

The “Secure the Vote” initiative needed 137,929 verified signatures from Utah voters. As of Wednesday morning, Utah elections officials had verified just 5,782. Organizers submitted an additional 22,498 signatures but election officials did not verify them since the initiative would still be far short of qualifying for the ballot.

Fueled by baseless claims that casting ballots by mail is rife with fraud, the initiative sought to return Utah to same-day paper balloting. That method has not seen widespread use in Utah since 1986. Ballots would have been cast at local precinct polling places, counted and reported on election night. Most absentee balloting would be eliminated.

The fiscal analysis of the proposal concluded shifting to that method of voting would result in skyrocketing costs for election administration for local governments.

In a statement posted to several right-wing Utah Telegram groups, organizers tried to put a good face on their effort falling short.

“We just did not have enough signature-gathering time to put the Secure the Vote Act on the ballot for 2022. Nonetheless, our all-volunteer, grassroots effort succeeded in getting nearly a thousand in-person signatures a day, a pace that would have yielded a quarter-million signatures in the normal time an initiative has to get on the ballot,” they alleged.

When it became clear they would likely fall short of qualifying for the ballot, organizers asked state elections officials for more time and to reduce the total number of signatures. They argued the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made signature gathering more difficult and faulted state officials for not giving them enough time to circulate petitions. The Utah elections office rebuffed that request.

Last week, supporters said they would file suit in federal court to get more time. So far, the threatened lawsuit has not materialized.

Secure Vote Utah leader Lew Moore issued a statement on Wednesday disputing the signature numbers claiming more than 28,000 signatures were submitted by his group.

“Signature gatherers, all volunteers for Secure Vote Utah, have reported a tremendous response from the public and the ease of which signatures were gathered, with their chief complaint being that there just was not enough time to meet the state’s signature requirement,” Moore said.

The signature numbers reported by the state elections office are those that have been verified by county clerks.

With the failure to qualify for the ballot, backers are barred from resubmitting a similar proposal for two years.

Supporters are turning their attention to HB371 — from Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding — which does many of the same things as the ballot initiative, including ending universal mail-in voting in favor of same-day paper balloting. Lyman says his bill should be up for a committee hearing later this week.