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Secret ballot on Senate seat cast questions on reasons for poll

Sun Advcoate publisher

In what seems to be a twist in a year when the Media Coalition gave a good grade to the Utah State Legislature for its work on open government, an item popped up on the radar screen recently that seems to make that bright light not so shiney now.

Joint Resolution 1, that was passed by the Senate in January may mean something or nothing at all. The members of the Senate basically agreed that sometime after the session the State Legislative Auditor's office would take a poll of the state senators asking them which national senatorial candidate they would prefer be the next senator from Utah to Congress. Of course the incumbent senator is Orrin Hatch, but he has many Republicans running against him and a couple of Democrats as well.

What I want to know is why it is important for the State Senate to voice their opinion in this way? You may also ask why it is important to me?

As a journalist I like to hear reasonable reasons for things. On Monday the Legislative Auditor's office sent out an email polling the senators on this. as directed by Resolution 1. The poll was using randomly assigned ballot control numbers to maintain the poll's integrity, which also included a secret ballot. The word "secret" in something always bothers me. So when I saw this on Tuesday I began to think about what should be done about exploring what was going on. Tuesday evening I submitted a GRAMA request to the Legislative Auditor's office asking for information. I also asked that the recipient of the request let me know they had received it. So far not response directly from them on that count, but the poll runs for a few more days, so I didn't expect any information right away.

However I didn't expect a flurry of messages to be sent out to senators that a GRAMA request was in hand by the Legislative Auditor's office either. Not long after I sent the GRAMA request on Tuesday senators were informed of my request. It seemed some kind of something hit the fan when I did that. On Thursday senators were informed that those that wished to participate in the poll (all were asked to make a choice or they could decline to participate) do so by calling in with their control number. The Legislative Auditor's office had already deleted votes that had come in by email, and senators were told that legal council had informed the Legislative Auditor's office that they should not delete any more emails. The final statement from the Legislative Auditor's office was that by using the phone to call someone at the office to register their vote, senators "best preserves the secret ballot intended by SR1."

Okay, I have to ask. What is the purpose in this exercise, and why are they so worried about who knows who supports who. And why are they so worried it will get out that they don't even want any kind of written record concerning the total or who voted for whom?

I also have to ask another question. Before 1913, state legislators picked the senators that would represent a state in Congress. It was their power to take and do with what they wanted. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution changed that; after that time popular vote took that responsibility away from state governing bodies.

Based on the anti-federal kinds of bills passed at the legislature this past session, with many proclaiming that the state is now just a serf to the feds, is this just some kind of strange work around the 17th Amendment?

Some say the 17th Amendment took too much power away from state government. Critics of the amendment often say that by changing the way senators are elected, state legislatures have lost any power they had to control what is going on. Many have said the Amendment ought to be repealed.

Okay I get that. I understand that. But back to the item at hand. Why this, and why now?

I am hoping the GRAMA request I put in is answered and it sheds some light on this entire project, or whatever it is you can call it.

I am looking forward to the Legislative Auditor's office's response.

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