County primary election process raises questions
While it seems a long time since the 2012 Primary Election was held in the county (June 26, with the final canvas being done on July 10) a few residents have had questions about some things that happened in connection with that voting.
Two issues have come to the forefront that have disturbed some in the community. First, it was alleged by at least four voters that when they went to their polling place on the morning of June 26, they were told because they were registered as Republicans they could not vote in the Democratic Primary and that they should vote in the Republican Primary instead.
To a certain extent the problem stems from the fact that the Republican Party runs a closed primary election. To vote you must be a registered member of the party. The Democrats run an open primary, meaning that Democrats, Republicans and those with no affiliation can vote in their election. However, no one can vote in both. It was even more complicated this year because the Constitution Party also had a primary ballot.
In at least one incident a citizen claimed he was told that if he was a registered Republican he couldn't vote the Democratic ballot. He stated that he then argued with the election judges at the polls. Two other people reportedly left when they were told they could not vote in the Democratic primary. But Carbon County Clerk/Auditor Robert Pero says that the confusion may have come from the way the election must be run, not from the judges at the polls.
"The legislature doesn't understand how complicated and confusing they have made this voting thing for citizens and for us," stated Pero when he was asked about this. "In this election you had three choices. You could take a Republican, Democrat or Constitutional party ballot and vote. To vote Republican you had to be a registered Republican. To vote for the other two parties you could be any of those or unaffiliated."
Pero said that all voters basically have three chances to change what they want to do.
"The first judge asks you want ballot you want to vote," stated Pero. "The second judge asks you which ballot you are voting and has you sign for it. The third thing that happens is that once you put the card in the machine if you have the wrong ballot you can clear it and ask for the proper ballot."
In Utah the Lieutenant Governor's office is in charge of the elections. Mark Thomas, who works in that office, is one of the principals in running the elections. Thomas stated that the possibility of a problem with poll judges not understanding the ins and outs of this primary election was nothing new to his office. He said there were problems in other places similar to what some residents described in Carbon County.
"In one northern county we actually had to send home poll judges who could not get it right despite all the training they had been given," said Thomas.
Pero, however, denies this happened in Carbon County.
"I questioned the judges when I was informed of the problem and I believe they did everything right," he said.
The second issue that arose came out after the election and concerned absentee ballots that were sent out by the Carbon County Clerk's office. The claim was that they were sent out too late.
"Those absentee ballots are supposed to go out well before the election, but they were not sent out until the Friday before the election," said Thomas. "We didn't find out about that until one of the candidates informed us that it had happened."
Pero admitted that his office "screwed up" on sending out ballots on time, but it was because of a vendor others in the state had used with great satisfaction.
"We had a contract with Carr Printing to send them out," Pero stated pointing out that this was the first time his office had not done it themselves. "Other counties in the state said they had had good luck with these guys. Absentee ballots are a lot of work so we decided to try it. Unfortunately we just had problem after problem after problem. By the time we got it corrected and did it ourselves it was late in the process."
Pero pointed out that a number of other counties that used Carr Printing had problems too, particularly Utah County.
"We will not be doing this again," he said. "We are going back to the old way, where we do it ourselves."
When the problem was discovered Pero said his office began calling those that were on the absentee ballot request lists (which consist of a permanent list, a temporary request list and a mail list for places like Scofield and Clear Creek) to let them know about the problem and to ask which ballots people wanted.
"We were able to contact a lot of them and get them the right ballots," he said. "But for the ones we didn't contact, despite some definite instructions that were included with the ballots, some of those that sent them back voted on all three ballots."
Pero said he also allowed some extra time for the ballots to come in, a move which negated the fact the ballots had to be post marked by the day of the regular election.
Thomas said Pero had investigated all the ballots, looked at the ones that had come in and those voters that had voted in person instead of using their absentee ballots. All together 38 ballots were unaccounted for.
"We turned that information over the candidate that reported the discrepancy and it was his choice as to whether to file a challenge to the election in district court," said Thomas. "That is up to him, not us."
That candidate, Dave Smith, decided that the option of filing a suit to challenge the election did not fit him well.
"With the fact only 38 ballots were missing, the chances of us winning were not good," said Smith on Friday. "The way the state statute reads we would have to get detailed information on the instructions given to voters, the names and situations involving all those that were involved, etc. It would have been very complicated and expensive."
Smith pointed out that after conferring with his attorney he found that if he challenged the election and he lost the challenge he might have been liable for all the costs the county would incur. Legal costs could have added up to $30,000.
"I just decided it was not worth it," he stated. "All I was interested in was a fair election. I was a little disappointed with the way some of the county officials reacted to the problems though. They acted like the late absentee ballots were no big deal. However Mr. Pero did promise it would not happen again."
Thomas said he was satisfied with the outcome of the investigation that had been done but pointed out he was still a little bothered that he had to hear about the problem from a candidate rather than from the county.
"If they had called us we could have offered help with what was happening," he said.