A Day Late, 70 Ballots Short? Utah Candidate Seeks Recount Over Late Ballots

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[Image via patentpracticeliability]

Back in December, I wrote about Ohio voters who were “mad as a wet hen in a thunderstorm” about vote by mail ballots that were mailed before Election Day but arrived late without a postmark and thus couldn’t be counted. You can add a veteran Utah legislator to that list, who is asking the Utah Supreme Court for a recount after he lost a recent primary by 9 votes with 70 late but unpostmarked ballots uncounted in the final tally. The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

State Rep. Mel Brown — who lost his GOP primary by nine votes — asked the Utah Supreme Court on Monday to order the state to count 70 ballots that were never opened because officials say they were mailed too late.

Brown, R-Coalville, contends that U.S. Postal Service practices in rural counties delay postmarks by a day, which he argues unfairly disqualified many ballots. That happens because mail in many of those areas is sent to the Salt Lake Central Post Office, where it is postmarked the next day.

“Logically speaking, it is by far most probable that the 70 voters mailed their ballots in their respective counties of residence on the day before the election,” as required by law, Brown’s lawsuit asserts. House District 53 includes parts of Daggett, Duchesne, Morgan, Rich and Summit counties.

Brown’s campaign has talked to voters who say they did mail their ballots in time – and this is not a new problem for the state, as evidenced by lawmakers’ failure to act:

The lawsuit added that Brown talked with many of the 70 people involved who said they had indeed mailed their ballots on time.

Brown asked the high court to order that the ballots be counted and if they change the outcome, that he be declared the winner …

Legislators had discussed earlier this year problems that could come because of the Postal Service’s practice of delaying postmarks by a day in some rural areas, but they took no corrective action.

While the state has not commented on the postmark issue, it is contradicting another allegation that almost three dozen other ballots were improperly rejected:

Brown’s lawsuit also asked that 32 ballots be counted that had been rejected either for lacking signatures or having signatures that did not match those on file.

He said state law requires county clerks to contact such voters to allow them to rectify the problem — if their ballots are received early enough. Brown contends that clerks did not fully comply.

Mark Thomas, state elections director, said the lieutenant governor’s office looked into that at Brown’s request during a recount and found that the clerks had complied.

The Court, if it acts, will need to do so quickly, given the election calendar and rapidly approaching general election:

The lawsuit was filed directly with the Utah Supreme Court — and seeks expedited action — because of a quickly approaching Aug. 30 deadline for the lieutenant governor to certify ballots for the Nov. 8 general election. County clerks usually begin to order and print ballots shortly after that certification.

On one hand, this lawsuit looks like a last-ditch legal effort for a longtime incumbent (and former Speaker) trying to extend his 24 years in the legislature; however, the issue it raises is very important. As vote by mail ballots proliferate – and postal service reductions continue – we are likely to see more and more of these kinds of problems in close elections. Fortunately, awareness of these issues is growing and, hopefully, solutions can emerge.

In the meantime, Rep. Brown and his opponent will be watching the state Supreme Court … as will I. Stay tuned.

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