9,800 southern Utah ballots in limbo amid mail-in ballot dispute in Iron County

Iron County commissions deferred voting to certify the county’s election results until Tuesday in hopes of finding a way to count around 400 mail-in ballots that missed Utah’s postmark deadline.

The Iron County Commission is contemplating not certifying more than 9,800 votes before Tuesday’s state-mandated deadline because approximately 400 mail-in ballots were postmarked after the deadline to be counted in Utah’s 2024 primary election, according to county officials.

Such a move could overturn the results in a hotly-contested congressional primary race.

On Monday, the Commission was poised to certify the election results at their regular meeting operating as the county’s board of canvassers. Instead of giving their stamp of approval, commissioners put off the vote until they hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the final day for Utah counties can certify their results.

Under Utah law, mail-in ballots must be postmarked by the day before the election. For this year’s primary, the postmark deadline was June 24.

On Friday, Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens wrote on social media that hundreds of ballots were not counted because they were postmarked after that deadline.

“Today I have learned that hundreds of ballots in Southern Utah have not been counted because the postal service post marked many of them late by several days, Cozzens posted on Friday. “As a county commissioner I am expected to certify the election results. I cannot, in good conscience, vote to do so on Monday while hundreds of voters follow state law, and their votes will not count.”

Cozeens wrote later that “a lot of folks reach out” after his Friday post to share they’d mailed their ballot before the deadline but later learned their vote would not count.

According to Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker, after they were mailed, ballots went to Las Vegas for processing and several added to the mail on the 24th were not stamped until the following day because they arrived in Nevada after midnight.

“Because of the 340-mile journey all mail must take to the Vegas sort center and back, they were likely stamped after midnight, even though they entered the mail stream on the 24th,” Whittaker said during Monday’s meeting. “This is maddening. I feel that over 400 voices were silenced for no good reason.”

Some members of the public used the controversy to attack the state’s universal vote-by-mail system, saying the situation illustrated why it needed to be scrapped.

”This is a big deal. If we can’t trust the post office, why are we using them? I think we have to back off this universal mail-in voting. It’s broken,” Blaine Nay told commissioners.

Camille Topham said she and her family mailed their ballots at the Enoch City post box on June 23 as they were leaving for vacation and were shocked to get letters saying they were rejected for not having a timely postmark.

“Why are we sending out ballots out of state? Isn’t that an opportunity for fraud? I don’t get why Nevada has control over our ballots,” Topham said during Monday’s commission meeting. “I’ve faltered in my faith in the election system for quite some time, but with the U.S. Postal Service, I have no faith anymore.”

Because of those rejected ballots, Cozzens says he won’t vote to certify the results on Tuesday evening.

“The right to vote has been paid for by the blood of hundreds of thousands who have come before us,” Cozzens said. “Silencing these voices dishonors their sacrifices and undermines the democratic process. Therefore, I will not vote to certify this election until we have a clear path forward without silencing the voices of those who did their duty and mailed their ballots on time.”

Cozzens will have to convince at least one other person, either Commissioner Mike Bleak or Iron County Sherrif Kenneth Carpenter, to join him. Carpenter was swapped in for Commissioner Marilyn Wood, who was excused to deal with a family issue.

Both Bleak and Carpenter expressed sympathy to voters whose ballots were rejected but did not see much room for them to circumvent state law.

“We’re not going to change this today. I don’t know any way around honoring the law as it stands today, respecting the law and following the law. It’s very clear,” Bleak said.

Commissioners decided to hold off on the certification vote to confer with state election officials and see if there is any wiggle room to count those ballots. They’ve scheduled an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

While it may not be much comfort now, Bleak said the best course of action is to work with the legislature to address the issue before it impacts future elections.

State law doesn’t say much about what happens if Iron County does not certify the results, but it could potentially flip the lead in the Utah’s ever-narrowing 2nd Congressional District primary between Celeste Maloy and Colby Jenkins.

According to unofficial returns, Maloy currently leads Jenkins by 314 votes. Maloy prevailed in Iron County by 684 votes. If the ballots counted by the county are not certified, Jenkins would lead the race by 370 votes district wide.

On Monday, a state judge rejected Jenkins’ attempt to gain access to uncured ballots in Washington County so he could contact voters whose ballot had not been counted in hope of getting those votes cured. Washington County’s top elections official told Fifth District Court Judge Jay T. Winward that the county had sent a letter and text messages to voters whose ballots had not been counted, as is required by the law.

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