Goud Maragani: Why it is good to question the election process and results

Candidate for Salt Lake County Clerk promises transparency and accuracy in elections.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Elections coordinators Antigone Carlson, left, and Barbara Beckstrom use optical scanners to count absentee or vote-by-mail ballots for the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.

History shows that questioning election processes and results is a bipartisan affair. Over 20 years ago, both Democrats and Republicans lined up, questioned voting results and hoped the “hanging chads” would fall in their favor.

More recently, Democrat Stacey Abrams refused to concede her 2018 defeat as her office stated: “the system failed voters.” In a 2020 interview, Hillary Clinton continued “with her conviction that the 2016 presidential election was not conducted legitimately.” And former President Donald Trump continues to allege a “stolen election.” These are candidates who lost elections, complaining about the results, and in some cases, the process.

Often, when the losing candidate questions the results of their hard-fought race, many quickly assume the candidate is a sore loser. However, to ensure confidence in our election systems, voters and candidates should feel comfortable, even encouraged, to question the details relating to the election process and its outcome.

Last month, a Georgia Democratic primary candidate did just that regarding the results of her race. The election results from the machine count showed DeKalb County Commission candidate Michelle Long Spears sitting in third place. After she questioned irregularities in the election results, a hand count was conducted, and “election officials determined that they had drastically underreported the vote totals for Ms. Spears.” She had been shortchanged by 3,792 votes.

After the hand count, election officials attributed the discrepancy to a computer programming error, and Spears catapulted to first place. If Spears had not questioned the outcome, the wrong person would have moved to the runoff election.

Salt Lake County is home to exciting political races, some of which are decided by razor-thin margins. The 2018 race between U.S. Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was decided by a mere 694 votes. Two years later, county council candidate Laurie Stringham beat incumbent Shireen Ghorbani by 1,189 votes in a county-wide race. This year we have a state Senate race coming down to the wire with only 60 or so votes separating the winner from the loser.

Because so many races are decided by narrow margins, Salt Lake County should have the most precise and transparent voting system in the state. There is little room for error when races are won or lost by 60 votes.

Because more than 90% of Salt Lake County’s voters use mail-in ballots, the county clerk’s office must take additional steps to protect the methods and systems used to receive and count your mail-in ballot, and make those systems more transparent. Here are a few of my proposals:

1. Drop Boxes. Currently, voters physically deliver nearly 60% of their mail-in ballots to drop boxes across the county. A team of two, one Democrat and one Republican, working for the county clerks’ office, must electronically time stamp when they open a drop box and when they deliver the ballots to the clerk’s office. In addition, they will record the weight of the bag of ballots at the drop box and also when it is delivered to the clerk’s office. After the canvass, the clerk’s office will voluntarily release these chain-of-custody logs to the public.

2. Random hand counts. We will hand-count one randomly selected race every election and compare the result to what comes out of the tabulator. If the numbers from the hand count match what the tabulator produced, it will increase voters’ faith in the machines and the election results. If the numbers do not match, the clerk can research what caused the discrepancy, remedy the problem, and disclose the findings and solution to the public.

3. Poll watching schedule. To get maximum participation in poll watching, post a detailed schedule of when the clerk’s office will engage in various activities (e.g., signature verification, ballot duplication, evaluation of questionable ballots, scheduled work stoppages for meals, etc.) at least two weeks before processing any ballots.

After more than 30 years of the same county clerk, voters in Salt Lake County have an opportunity to choose a county clerk who can lead the clerk’s office to new heights of transparency, security, accuracy and voter and candidate engagement.

With my almost 20 years of legal experience in litigation, compliance systems, and procedures, my service to our country as a JAG officer in the U.S. Army Reserves and Utah National Guard, and my leadership at a Utah-based tech company doing business around the world, I believe I am the most qualified candidate to lead the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office to a higher level of compliance, transparency and accuracy.

Goud Maragani

Goud Maragani is the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County Clerk.