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Opinion: Why another audit of Utah’s 2020 election would be costly and damaging

Deseret News logo Deseret News 10/21/2021 The Deseret News Editorial Board
Election ballots are processed by workers at the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. © Scott G Winterton, Deseret News Election ballots are processed by workers at the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

First, we must begin with state Rep. Steve Christiansen’s main claim, made at a rally and committee hearing at the state Capitol this week. The West Jordan Republican argues no harm could be done by conducting yet another audit of Utah’s successful 2020 election, this one presumably financed by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Anyone who follows the fog that envelopes every conspiracy theory about election fraud knows this isn’t true. Arizona offers the perfect example. An “audit” there, financed and sloppily conducted by far right-wing groups and a company called Cyber Ninjas, ended up confirming President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Maricopa County, and actually attributed a few more votes in his direction than did the official results.

And yet the conspiracy hounds began barking almost immediately, arguing endless hypotheticals. Social media falsehoods followed, including claims that the audit found evidence of widespread fraud, which isn’t true.

No, Christiansen’s demand for a Utah election audit would not be a benign check on county and state election functions. It would stir a hornet’s nest that adds needlessly to the erroneous belief many already have that something is wrong with Utah’s version of the most important manifestation of popular rule.

Trump carried this state handily. No other race on the ballot produced the slightest complaint of scandal. The West Jordan representative has no proof of wrongdoing. Utah’s election already has been thoroughly audited, including random spot-checks of ballots cast, and these audits are available to the public. The election is settled, and it has been, both in Utah and nationally, for nearly a year.

And yet, county clerks in Utah already report being assailed by people with misinformation, fueled by the deliberate falsehoods of social media. Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch described these as “inflammatory, outlandish, inciting, scary and quite often incomplete. …”

Arizona is proof that these don’t go away once an audit finds nothing wrong. This is an age where, among too many people, truth and reason struggle to gain footholds in the public square.

Also, Arizona’s audit ended up costing taxpayers millions, including the cost of replacing voting machines that were compromised.

Second, Christiansen casts aspersions on Utah’s successful vote-by-mail system, presumably for no other reason than that mail-in ballots have become the whipping boy of the far-right wing nationally.

Utahns have voted by mail for nearly a decade. During that time, voter turnout has improved. People seem to enjoy being able to take the time to research candidates and ballot questions, carefully casting informed ballots from home.

Last year, The Atlantic asked wistfully, “Utah has thoroughly embraced voting by mail with no problems. Why can’t the rest of the country follow suit?”

Salt Lake County checks all ballot signatures against other signatures on file from each voter. Machines do much of this, but thousands of questionable signatures are painstakingly checked by hand.

Third, Christiansen also would like to do away with all electronic voting machines in the state — another baseless demand. These, too, are audited. Utah makes sure none of the machines is connected to the internet. Hacking them would require a conspiracy of many people working in painstaking detail on each machine. No evidence of such a thing has been uncovered.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, whose office oversees elections in Utah, told the Judiciary Interim Committee hearing, “Utah has long been a model to the nation when it comes to voting and voter security. County clerks and local election offices execute their duties with accuracy and integrity. Utah follows the law.”

All the evidence supports this statement. Utahns should be proud of their state’s election system and its integrity, just as they should be proud of election laws here that make voting easy, fair and accessible.

Only a couple of hundred people attended the rally and committee hearing. We hope that shows the lack of support for a wholesale audit of Utah’s successful 2020 election. Utah lawmakers should never entertain such a thing. An expensive and damaging re-audit makes no sense and would irresponsibly fuel the misinformation machine that moves too much public discourse today.

Utahns, who will encounter ranked choice voting for the first time in many municipal elections this year, should rest assured that they live in a state where democracy functions with integrity.

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