Utah’s slow vote count may delay race call for Love, McAdams

This article originally appeared in the Daily Herald. Read it in its entirety here.

SALT LAKE CITY — If a Utah race is too close to call on Election Night — a possibility in the slugfest between Republican Rep. Mia Love and Democrat Ben McAdams — residents and candidates will have to wait to find out who won because the state recommends counties wait three days before posting more results.

The lieutenant governor’s office asks county clerks to follow a vote release schedule created in 2016 that includes a lag until a Friday afternoon dump of results. The delay is designed to allow county clerks time to tally ballots in an organized and proper manner without being hounded by campaigns and news organizations to release votes every day, said Justin Lee, state director of elections.

“We’re far more concerned with making sure the counties have the time get it right, than to get it done fast,” Lee said.

The proliferation of mail-in voting — now occurring in 27 of the 29 counties — has created more work for county clerks because mail-in ballots that get dropped at polling places or sent by mail close to Election Day must be verified and counted in a time-consuming process, Lee said. More than two-thirds of the votes are expected to come from mail-in ballots, he said.

Most states release voting results as they come in, said Wendy Underhill, director of elections at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah appears to be in the minority in delaying it, though there may be advantages to a more cautious approach, she said.

The three states that only have voting by mail — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — release results daily after the election. In Colorado, the secretary of state updates the vote count at least daily, although votes are counted and submitted at varying speeds depending on county.

Utah counties are not required to follow the vote release schedule. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says she plans to release votes one day earlier, on Thursday. Her county accounts for about four-fifths of registered voters in Love’s district. Swensen said there’s no way her office could provide an updated count by Wednesday.

But “we don’t want to hold everything until Friday,” Swensen said.

Utah County, which has the second-largest portion of voters in Love’s district, with 14 percent, will wait until Friday because protecting the integrity of the election is most important, County Clerk Bryan Thompson said.

“I understand that everyone wants to know, but if we have issues and there are mistakes, that calls things into question,” Thompson said.

Two other counties have 1 percent of the voters in the district: Juab and Sanpete counties. Juab County will do another release Wednesday, said County Clerk Alaina Lofgran. Sanpete County will wait until the following Tuesday, Nov. 13, because of a lack of staffing, County Clerk Sandy Neill said.

Even if people are clamoring for more votes in the Love-McAdams race, which could decide control of Congress, Lee said the state won’t deviate from its plan.

“From our perspective, we don’t care,” Lee said. “I’m being a little flippant with that, but I mean, nothing matters even for Congress’ perspective until we do an official certification of results.”

State and counties don’t certify results until the official vote canvass two weeks later, but news organizations such as The Associated Press regularly call races on Election Night based on statistical models, demographics, the number of absentee ballots and political issues that may affect the outcome of races.

Lee said he thinks voters are better served by getting large dumps of votes rather than a trickling of votes to avoid tight races appearing to flip back and forth.

“No matter how often we release them, it seems like people want them more often,” Lee said. “I think what people would like to see, and I don’t think it’s practical or feasible, is a live stream of results.”

There was little criticism of the delayed vote count.

Katie Matheson of Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning watchdog group, said election officials are smart to do their due diligence.

“There’s a lot of stake in these races,” Matheson said. “Taking the time to make sure the info they have correct is important.”

Representatives for Love and McAdams said they have no complaints about the schedule.

Vote-watchers can expect a big release of counted early ballots shortly after polls close Tuesday at 8 p.m., which could be enough for the AP and other news outlets to call several races, including Mitt Romney’s bid to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Herald. Read it in its entirety here.

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