What Utah voters should know before this year’s primary elections

Longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen walked Tribune reporters through the ballot counting process, showing the security measures her office employs to keep voting anonymous and accurate.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A voter drops his ballot in the drop box at Murray City Hall, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.

Primary elections are Tuesday, and ballots that will ultimately determine candidates’ political futures, many of them mailed in, are already being tabulated.

Ahead of the big day, reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen about what Utah voters should know concerning the state’s vote-by-mail system, new districts and election security measures.

Here are some things to keep in mind before this year’s midterms.

The basics

Utah’s primary elections will be held on Tuesday, June 28, and the winners will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

Ballots have been sent to all active registered voters, and residents can choose whether to vote by mail or cast their ballots at a physical location. If they have not already, qualified individuals can register to vote in person up to and on election day. Unaffiliated voters still have the opportunity to register with a party as well.

However, the deadline to switch one’s voter affiliation from one party to another has passed. In order to stop “party raiding,” the State Legislature voted in 2021 to restrict when voters could switch affiliations during election season. In Utah, Republican primaries are closed, meaning only Republican-registered voters can participate, and Democratic primaries are semi-closed so that only party-affiliated or unaffiliated voters can cast ballots.

Initial vote totals will drop Tuesday night, and the final results will be announced once all in-person and mail ballots have been counted.

Voters can learn more about candidates, check the status of their ballots and update their registration and mailing addresses at vote.utah.gov.

New congressional and state districts

Utah’s congressional boundaries are redrawn every decade, and maps conceived by state lawmakers were rushed through the Legislature and signed into effect by the governor last year. That means some voters may find themselves casting ballots in entirely different races than in years prior.

Among other changes, the newly drawn maps split Salt Lake County into each of Utah’s four congressional districts.

The redistricting has drawn criticism from residents. A group of stakeholders is suing the Legislature, the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee and state officials, including Henderson, for drawing and adopting maps they say constitute an illegal gerrymander.

In addition to the new congressional boundaries, Utahns may also find themselves in unfamiliar state districts for House, Senate and Board of Education races.

Is vote-by-mail secure?

Utah employs universal vote by mail, and Henderson expressed confidence in the system.

“Our mail-in ballots, I think, are actually probably one of the most secure ways that we could be administering an election,” she said, “with all of the different multiple layers of security that we have in place.”

Specifically, mail ballots come equipped with unique barcodes that are tied to specific voters, ensuring they can only vote once. Voters are also required to sign their ballots, and their signatures are checked against ones kept on file in a voter registration database. If they don’t match, the ballot is flagged, and the voter is notified and given the opportunity to “cure” the ballot or reject it.

Henderson also pointed to multiple audits that happen before and after elections, as well as precautions such as never connecting voting equipment to the internet in the interest of cybersecurity, following specific chain of custody processes and allowing members of the public to witness audits and ballot counting.

On Friday, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen walked Tribune reporters through the process of tabulating mail ballots, which you can watch below.

New election security measures

Henderson said, year over year, the state makes improvements to its election system.

“I am very supportive of anything that makes our elections more secure and accessible to people,” she said. “And we can have both.”

During this year’s legislative session, a bill that imposed numerous new security measures was signed into law.

HB313 mandates 24-hour video surveillance at unattended ballot drop boxes, directs the lieutenant governor to do a yearly audit of the voter registration database and requires that voters who did not show valid voter identification when they registered to do so when they vote.

While noting that she was on board with most of the bill’s changes, Swensen said the surveillance camera requirement represents an intrusion of privacy and tries to solve a problem she doesn’t think exists. According to her, anyone can access the video footage, and her office has already received several GRAMA requests.

“It wasn’t to protect the ballot boxes,” she said. “It was to prevent what they perceived as an issue with potential ballot harvesting, which I have not even heard of that happening.”

She also took issue with the legislation’s mandate about voter identification. Years ago, residents were not required to provide identification when they registered to vote, and now she is scrambling to collect that information from those individuals.

If Salt Lake County residents have any concerns, she encouraged them to call her office.

If you would like to know more about the primary candidates competing in national races, you can find The Tribune’s guide here. For more information about state candidates participating in primaries, click here.

Correction, June 27, 11:38 a.m. • This story has been updated to clarify that unaffiliated voters can still affiliate with a party up to and on election day.