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Utah lawmakers tighten election security with new ballot rules, dropbox video surveillance

 Voters drop off ballots at the Salt Lake County government center, Nov. 3, 2020.
Renee Bright
Voters drop off ballots at the Salt Lake County government center, Nov. 3, 2020.

The Utah Legislature passed an election security bill Thursday that requires everything from video surveillance of ballot boxes to requiring voters to include a photocopy of their ID in their mail-in ballots if they didn’t provide one when registering.

“There is nothing more sacrosanct in our republic than voting,” said Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the bill’s floor sponsor. “Trying to add measures that add some consistency or add some standard is extremely valuable.”

HB 313 also requires county clerks to develop security measures related to documenting the chain of custody of ballots. The lieutenant governor’s office would have to audit voter registration records at least once a year. Among other things, it also prohibits tabulation machines from being connected to the internet, which election officials say is already standard practice.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who helped craft the legislation with county clerks, said that does not mean there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

“That being said, we are also continually learning and improving and looking for ways that we can do better, and there are ways that we can do better,” Henderson said during an October 2021 legislative hearing.

But some lawmakers said the video surveillance measure went too far. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Ferron, worried that his grandson could get in trouble for dropping off 15 of his family members’ ballots.

McCay said there would be an opportunity for the county clerk to reach out to each of his family members and confirm the ballots being dropped off are valid. The cameras would, however, help them catch criminals, he said.

“It's the person who disappears with your ballot that then becomes the criminal,” McCay said. “[The camera] makes it so that we can find who's trying to rig the election or do whatever it is, right? It's just the idea of creating the monitoring.”

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said surveillance video could still cause problems for people dropping off their family’s ballots.

“That video of Dave Hinkins’ grandson could be taken and could be run on the news as proof positive of ballot stuffing and election fraud,” Thatcher said. “It won't matter that we can't prove that he stuffed the ballot. There will be a video. It will be out there and people will use that to argue that he cheated and rigged an election.”

And, he said, that won’t convince skeptics that Utah’s future elections will be secure.

The bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk. Given that his lieutenant governor worked on it, he’s likely to sign it.

Copyright 2022 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER. She’s been reporting on politics ever since the 10th grade, when she went to so many school board meetings the district set up a press table for her. Before coming to Utah, Sonja spent four years at KQED in San Francisco where she covered everything from wildfires to the tech industry. When she’s not working, you can find her skiing, camping, or deeply invested in a 1000 piece puzzle.