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Southern Utah counties potentially refuse election certification over ballot concerns

Nine counties in southern Utah are reporting concerns regarding ballots in the recent primary elections, to the point that some county officials in counties like Washington and Iron are debating whether to formally certify the election. If the ballots show a strong trend toward certain candidates, these late-processed and previously uncounted ballots have the potential to reverse some of the results of the recent elections at the state level.

Left to right, photos courtesy of Jon Whittaker:

  • These ballots show the hand stamps “6-24” as in, received by a post office on June 24, then postmarked by the Vegas Processing Center on June 25, too late to be counted. Photo courtesy of Jon Whittaker.

  • Piles of ballots that officials have reason to believe were submitted on time, then processed late and disqualified. Photo courtesy of Jon Whittaker.

Questions arose initially when county clerks noticed and reported a trend showing an unprecedented increase in mailed-in ballots with postmarks later than the election due date, rendering them invalid. As these county officials took note of the trend, news spread to nearby counties who could corroborate the numbers, and on July 5, Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker posted an open letter to multiple United States Postal Service (USPS) officials and nearby county clerks and election specialists with the headline “I am livid!”

Whittaker’s letter reported that of the 429 mail-in ballots sent into Iron County, only 14 were valid due to postmarks from the Las Vegas USPS Processing Center showing them as received on the June 25. Wrote Whittaker, “Utah law requires that a ballot envelope be stamped with a date before the election, so in this case, June 24. I am upset because nearly all the ballot envelopes that will not be counted are mechanically stamped June 25 at the Las Vegas sort center. Most damning is that on all the countable ballot envelopes, there is both the mechanical Las Vegas stamp, plus another stamp with an earlier date. Either a hand stamp at a local post office, or a mechanical stamp from another place.” Whittaker attached an image of a few such ballots, shown here, before summing up his point, “Because both the ballot envelopes that are going be rejected, as well as those that will count all have the June 25 cancellation stamp, I can only assume that at least some of those that bear the June 25 date were mailed on June 24 and should therefore be counted. However, because of the maddening 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.”

Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens posted on social media on July 6, “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. As a county commissioner I am expected to certify the results of the election. I cannot in good conscience vote to do so on Monday while hundreds of voters followed state law and their votes will not count.”

Actions by Iron County officials amount to an accusation of misconduct against the USPS, particularly Utah ballots being transported to Las Vegas for processing. Whittaker’s message was addressed to nine Utah counties that share the zip code prefix necessitating Las Vegas processing: Beaver, Washington, Millard, Iron, Sevier, Piute, Kane, Garfield and Wayne. Some of these counties report citizens willing to sign legal affidavits, essentially testifying under oath of law, that they filled and mailed their ballots before election day, to have them postmarked after midnight on June 25, rendering those votes invalid. These suspicions raise concerns on already sensitive subjects such as voting integrity, the viability of mail in voting and chain of custody of ballots across state lines.

According to Kane County Clerk/Auditor Chameill Lamb, however, Kane County did not see a similar increase in late ballot voting. Said Lamb, “I think we had a better utilization of our voter drop boxes this election than we ever have in the past. I feel fairly confident that if ballots were dropped off in Kanab, Glendale or Orderville, our main post offices would have them hand stamped and postmarked that same day … I think our voters utilized the systems we have in place very well, and I feel pretty good about what we received in the mail.” Per the report from the Clerk/Auditor’s office, less than one percent of Kane County’s ballots were unable to be counted due to late postmarking - fewer than in previous elections. Kane County’s election results would, for the most part, be unchanged by the counting of these ballots.

As the number of affidavits testifying of timely votes being discounted by later postmarks increase, state and county officials are considering granting final leeway to county clerks to count votes regardless of the late postmark, and potentially delaying the certification of certain elections to allow recounts and policy adjustments. The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office has appointed staff to oversee the response to these rising concerns in conjunction with more local officials - Lieutenant Governor Diedre Henderson has a history of working with issues like mail-in voting and election integrity.




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