At a recent legislative hearing, critics of Utah’s election system came out in droves, armed with conspiracies and lies and misinformation intended to cast doubt on the integrity of the process.
It is a disgraceful tactic that puts their fealty to one man ahead of their loyalty to democracy and the country.
So, on this Election Day, I wanted to use this space to try to dispel some of the doubt being cast on our electoral process. To do it, I reached out to Ricky Hatch to help people understand the lengths that elections officials go to in order to assure the integrity of the process.
Hatch has been the Weber County Clerk and Auditor since 2010. On top of that he has served on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, the board of advisors for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, is the past president of the Utah Association of Counties and in February testified before Congress for a second time.
“Everything that we do is done, first and foremost, to make sure we comply with the law. Right behind that is security and integrity,” he told me. “Just about every process and safeguard we have is directed toward those two things.”
In that context, Utah has created layer-upon-layer of checks at various parts of the process.
First, Utah does have a voter ID law. When residents register to vote they have to either provide a drivers license or a Social Security number.
The state voter rolls are curated regularly to weed out voters who have have moved or died. To maintain those rolls, Utah is part of a consortium of 30 states, constituting 80% of the voters in the United States, that share their voter databases so they can be compared against duplicate registrations — either by name, Social Security or birth date.
All of that is done to make sure mail-in ballots are only sent to legitimate voters.
Each ballot sent to a voter has a unique ID number so they can be tracked by the voter.
Ballot drop boxes are secured with two distinct keys needed to open them. When ballots are collected, two elections officers — in some instances county sheriffs — put the ballots in a bag that is zipped, numbered and sealed so when they are returned it can be verified that they have not been opened and the numbers of the bags sent out match the numbers returned.
The ballots are run through a machine that compares the signatures on the ballot with signatures on file, either on the voter registration or other official signatures on file.
If a ballot is spit out because the signatures don’t match, Hatch said, they are reviewed by trained volunteers and then by an election judge. “So if it doesn’t match on a first pass, it goes to a second person, then a third,” he said. “If it fails, the voter is notified within 24 hours and given a chance to [fix it].”
The ballot-counting machines are never connected to the Internet, in order to prevent hacking. The only connection is the plug in the wall that powers the machine. The tallies are loaded to a flash drive that is reformatted before each use, then hand walked to the tabulation server. The results are then loaded to a computer that ships the numbers to the lieutenant governor’s elections office.
There is another beauty to the system: Each county runs its own election independent of the state. If someone did want to “hack” the machines, they would have to physically gain access to tabulation machines in all 29 counties.
During the course of the election, Hatch said, various audits are conducted of the machines and the results.
First, before the election, a “logic and accuracy” test is run where a number of ballots with known results are run through the counting machines to ensure the count is what it should be. Every county is required by law to do these initial tests.
The signature validation software is also audited to make sure it is properly accepting or rejecting the signatures. Then, after the election, the lieutenant governor’s office randomly selects 1% of the ballots and those are checked again to make sure that the ballots were properly counted and recorded.
This happens in each of the 29 counties — for a total of at least 87 audits statewide in every single election — and all of them are open for the public to observe if they wish, Hatch said.
“The takeaway is that everything we do is done with integrity in mind. And don’t just take my word for it. Come and see. Come watch the process and see the count and safeguards so you can decide for yourself,” Hatch said. “We do everything in the light of day. Nothing is done behind locked doors.”
I can vouch for that.
Over the years, I’ve observed many, if not all, of these checks. And clerks are generally not just open to having people observe the processes, but they encourage it. If you doubt it, take Hatch on his offer and take the opportunity to see it yourself.
If you do, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have: That while it may be true that no election system is perfect, Utah does as good of a job of running its elections as any state in the nation and voters should be proud of that fact and confident in the integrity and accuracy of the outcomes — notwithstanding the craven attacks from individuals looking to sew discord and doubt for their own base political interests.
But, as good as the system may be, it only works if you vote — so go do it with confidence that it matters.