Paula K. Smith: Lannie Chapman deserves to be the new Salt Lake County clerk

Running elections is the most important job in the county.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lannie Chapman, Chief Deputy Clerk, prepares primary election ballots for counting at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Wednesday July 1, 2020.

The Salt Lake County Clerk’s job running elections is a huge amount of work. The job requires a backbone of steel to resist all the pressure the political parties, office holders and candidates sometimes try to assert. The clerk gets sued frequently. But it’s the most important job in the county.

That’s what I told Lannie Chapman when she was considering accepting Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen’s offer to become her chief deputy. At the time, I was doing much of the clerk’s office legal work as a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney. Lannie was then working her butt off doing the legal work for the sheriff’s office.

I really wanted Lannie to accept Sherrie’s offer, but I didn’t want her to take it without knowing what she was in for and without really wanting it. I thought Sherrie, one of the most beloved elected officials in Salt Lake County because of her fairness and dedication, would retire at some point, and Lannie would make a great replacement. Despite the fact that there are Democratic and Republican candidates for county clerk, once elected, the clerk cannot favor one party or the other.

While I did important health and environmental legal work for the Salt Lake County Health Department as well, I believed that the clerk’s work was the most important work in the county. Salt Lake County provides health clinics, helps keep your streams and air clean, delivers meals and provides other services to seniors, builds parks, libraries and recreation centers and subsidizes your arts. All these services help maintain your health, safety and quality of life.

More importantly, though, the clerk’s office protects your democracy. It runs elections with staff and hundreds of trained volunteers. Every other year there is a general election. During the alternate years, there are city, town and district elections that the clerk’s office contracts to handle. Early voting, vote-by-mail, multiple drop boxes for ballots and vote centers have made voting convenient and secure for all eligible voters. Voters can track the receipt and the counting of their ballots online at vote.utah.gov.

When I did legal work for the clerk’s office, fraud was limited to a handful of ballots (in the range of 10 or fewer) mostly involving family members voting for other family members. Yes, the clerk’s office compares the signatures on the voter registration and the ballot. One party paid people to sign up voters for vote-by-mail. One lazy contractor filled out the forms and signed them himself to save time, resulting in voters then unexpectedly receiving mail-in ballots. That’s it.

Recounts typically do not change election results. At most there may be a change in the count of fewer than 10 votes, if any. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office has won numerous awards for running accurate, efficient elections. Please don’t believe any candidate who tells you there is widespread voter fraud here.

The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office also issues marriage licenses and performs affordable marriage ceremonies. It follows the law. No licenses or ceremonies for same-sex couples when both were prohibited, but licenses and ceremonies as soon as it was legal. Unlike many other county clerks’ offices in Utah, the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office quickly changed course when the law concerning licenses and marriages switched back and forth.

I will never forget the lines of couples sobbing with joy, the grinning buskers and the ministers covering several floors of the Salt Lake County Government south building hallways during the morning of December 23, 2013.

After Lannie accepted the position as chief deputy county clerk, the work became even more difficult. Nevertheless, she helped run elections during the pandemic and endured the abuse and threats during the 2020 general election, the 2021 municipal and district elections and the more recent 2022 primaries.

Lannie’s hard work as chief deputy clerk for Sherrie Swensen has exceeded my wildest expectations and makes her uniquely qualified to succeed Sherrie. She’s still the delightful, smart, and level-headed public servant she’s always been. Please join many of Lannie’s former coworkers and me in voting for her for Salt Lake County clerk.

Paula K. Smith

Paula K. Smith is a retired attorney. She has worked for law firms in Washington, D.C., Denver and Salt Lake City, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Utah Labor Commission and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. She did legal work for the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office between 2013 and 2019.