It may be difficult to believe that there could be such a thing as an anti-democracy referendum.
But in the unlikely yet horrifying event that a group of Utah activists known as Secure Vote Utah gets its way, that is exactly what the state’s voters will be presented with in November of 2022.
If you are approached to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot you should refuse. Politely but firmly.
The group has begun the process to place before the voters a referendum that, if adopted, would make it unreasonably more difficult to register and to vote in Utah. It is based on the completely false assertion that the current exercise of the franchise in Utah is vulnerable to being defrauded or hijacked by, well, somebody. Even though there is no evidence any such thing has happened here or in any other jurisdiction within the United States.
While the group organizing the campaign has no known formal ties to the never-ending campaign of former President Donald Trump, it is clear that this petition drive is a part of the Big Lie. That’s the Trumpists’ continued whine that the 2020 election was somehow stolen.
Every stone that been turned since that election has established that no such thing even came close to happening. (Except when a violent pro-Trump mob attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6.)
As time goes on, it becomes clear the point of the ongoing propaganda drive is not so much to win any election, past or future, but to undermine the public’s confidence in their government, and their democracy. So that it all might be ripe for a takeover by a would-be dictator who promises to restore, not democracy, really, but order.
It’s the same motivation behind an improvised “audit” of voters being carried out by a shadowy group going door to door around the state, behind a new push by some state legislators to conduct yet another pointless audit of the last election, behind the wild goose chase untaken by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes in a self-appointed, and uninvited, inspection of election results in Nevada.
Even if the referendum doesn’t get on the ballot — or if it does and, as is likely, fails — the goal of sowing the seeds of doubt about our democracy will have been accomplished.
If elected officials and party leaders really want to restore public faith in their electoral process, the best thing they can do is to stop spreading lies that undermine it.
What the petitioning organization apparently doesn’t like is the fact that Utah’s process of mailing ballots to every registered voter, as well as giving those citizens the option of voting in person either on Election Day or for a 14-day stretch prior, has been a resounding success.
At least, it’s been a success in the two things that should matter the most to those who care about democracy: 1) more people vote and 2) nobody cheats.
Before the introduction of mail-in balloting, Utah’s otherwise good citizens had one of the worst voter turnout percentages in the country. Now that mail-in voting is the norm around here, we have one of the best. More than 1.5 million Utahns, more than 90% of those registered, cast a ballot last year, our best turnout since 1960.
The Secure Vote Utah proposal would take us back 100 years. All votes would have to be cast on Election Day, in person, on a paper ballot, marked with a pen or pencil, and counted on site that night. No early voting. Darn little opportunity to vote absentee.
No online voter registration. No using passports or military ID or other common forms of identification other than Utah driver license, state ID or, of course, concealed carry permit. (Which clearly gives away the kind of voter this group prefers to see cast ballots.)
The irony in all of this runs deep. Lawmakers who were elected in an election they loudly mistrust. People campaigning to have an electorate they don’t respect cast ballots through a system they say is subject to fraud. (So, apparently, they can cry foul when they lose.)
We also have a Utah Legislature notorious for ignoring the will of the voters as expressed through the referendum process. The best hope for our democracy is that, in the unlikely event that the Secure Vote Utah proposals are adopted at the polls, the Legislature will ignore them, too.