UPDATE: The Millard County Primary Election-by-Mail SAGA — by Todd Macfarlane

Build Trust Transparency 2UPDATED

Among the other things Millard County Government has come to be known for, transparency is not necessarily one of them.  So it’s hard to know exactly what is going on with this year’s Millard County Republican Primary Election, and most importantly, WHY.  But we often get what we pay for, and Millard County may be learning that lesson the hard way with the 2018 elections.

By way of update, it is worth highlighting some of the comments we have received:

The word “Saga” doesn’t hardly do justice to this situation.  It is a true Fiasco. ~ Jen

 

For this election to be legitimate, the County Clerk would need to be able to certify that every registered voter who was entitled to vote received a ballot and had a reasonable amount of time to cast it.

In 2014, the Millard County Clerk and county commissioners all knew or should have known of multiple violations of the election code, and that there was no way the election could be considered lawful and legitimate, yet they went ahead and certified it anyway – twice, forcing the issue into the courts, which threw the results out.

This time, hopefully this group of elected officials will have more integrity than that. If the election has not been conducted in full compliance with all applicable laws, and every registered voter who is entitled to receive a ballot has not received one and had a reasonable opportunity to cast it, then hopefully this group of elected officials will have enough integrity themselves to decline to certify the results of the election, rather than force it into the courts again. To have a legitimate election, there may not be any choice but to do a do-over.

Undoubtedly, this election will test their principles and character.

Only time will tell.   ~ Jim

 

“I talked to Pratts in Cove Fort. They have still not received ballots. Apparently no one in Cove Fort has received ballots yet, and they don’t know what is going on because they don’t get the paper, and there are no notices, etc., posted there. Their kids are working out of town this summer, and weekends are the only chance they will have to cast their absentee ballots — and they’ve already missed chances they should have had the last two weekends. ~ TM

Vote by Mail 1

The backstory is that Millard County, along with several other rural Utah counties, decided to try to save a buck this year by conducting all elections by mail.  Following a pilot program, where several counties tried it, this was authorized by the Utah State Legislature in recent legislation. Under applicable law, the method is officially known as “conducting an election by absentee ballot.”  So most absentee ballot rules apply.  The theory is that local governments may be able to save money by doing it this way.

But obviously, not all bugs have yet been worked out of the system.  According to applicable law (Utah Code 20A-3-305(1)(b): “No later than 21 days before election day, the election officer shall mail an official absentee ballot, postage paid, to all absentee voters . . . .”  Instead of doing exactly what the statute states, however, apparently someone (the Lt. Governor, who is over elections?) must have given approval for county clerks to out-source this statutory duty to someone else — an out-of-state contract service provider — with little, if any, apparent accountability.  So apparently several Utah Counties, including Millard County, contracted with a service provider in Colorado to handle this year’s mail-in ballots, apparently including both printing and mailing

Unfortunately, at a certain point it became readily apparent that the ballots hadn’t gone out to absentee voters (which under the statutory approach the county opted for was every qualified voter in the county) at least 21 days prior to this year’s June 26th Republican primary election.   Most ballots didn’t even start arriving until June 18th, just a week prior to the election, and essentially two weeks after they were supposed to have been mailed out, with little time to address issues (like mail forwarding, work and vacation absences, etc.,) and work-out any bugs that might arise, to reasonably ensure that everyone who wants to and is qualified can have a reasonable opportunity to cast a ballot.  But, despite all evidence to the contrary, according to the Millard County Clerk, this contract service provider has sworn on a stack of bibles that the ballots were in deed mailed out not later than June 5th.  But that raises another question:  Were they actually mailed to voters, or to the Millard County Clerk, as the election officer? .

Election Mail 1Although it is a Colorado company, apparently the ballots were printed and mailed from Minnesota.  But it still doesn’t take two weeks for mail to get from Minnesota to Utah, so there seems to be a credibility issue here that may taint the entire election.  If the applicable contract service provider hasn’t been candid about when the ballots were mailed, its candor cannot be automatically assumed with respect to whom ballots were mailed to.  In other words, did everyone who was qualified and supposed to receive a ballot get one?  More importantly, the whole process may end up being fatally flawed based on the lack of reasonable time to address and fix problems that may arise – which may deprive a whole bunch of people — including those who went way out of their way to be qualified to do so — of their fundamental right to vote in this election.

If misery loves company, at least several other counties seem to be in this same boat.  But those counties may not have the same track record of election irregularity and controversy that Millard County has — which led to the 2014 primary election being nullified and set aside by the Utah Supreme Court.  Once again, among the other things Millard County Government has come to be known for, transparency and election integrity are not necessarily two of them.  So, again, it’s hard to know the whole story (there is virtually always more to the equation than meets the eye), and exactly what is going on and why.

Utah County learned some of these lessons the hard way, with major controversies in the 2017 special primary election for the congressional house seat previously occupied by Representative Jason Chaffetz, with at least some 68,000 mail-in ballots running amok.  Consequently, after that experience, this year Utah County scrapped plans for another election by mail.

But this whole discussion raises some bigger, broader questions about bigger, broader policy issues, and the principles behind them — particularly about elections, and especially primary elections, in Millard County, Utah.  As some people know, I like to ask questions.  Heaven knows, the local paper seems to have little interest in asking hard questions, or exploring the rest of the equation when it comes to thorny local political issues.  And fairly often there are people who don’t like the questions I ask, but the vast majority of the time they are legitimate questions, that deserve to be explored.

Republican Came Saw Caucused 1From the outset, this primary election has been framed by partisan issues and in-fighting in the Republican party, primarily at the state level.  Although the upcoming election is called a “primary,” in Millard County, this year, it is really just a party nomination process.  The interesting thing about that is that the Republican Party doesn’t fund and pay for its own nomination process.  State and local governments foot most of the bill to pursue the Republican Party agenda to determine Republican Party nominees on the general election ballot, and state funds are used to discriminate against everyone else in the process.

Make no mistake.  I think the Republican Party has a real strong platform, that I whole-heartedly subscribe to. Among other things, I love the preamble, which states:

“We believe government properly exists by the consent of the governed and must be restrained from intruding into the freedoms of its citizens.  The function of government is not to grant rights, but to protect the unalienable, God-given rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

If only all Republicans understood, subscribed to, and tried to abide by these fundamental principles.  While giving lip service to these principles is not uncommon, actually putting them into practice is an altogether different story.  Unfortunately, most elected leaders have little real interest in actual policy and the principles behind it, and are blown around entirely by the winds of political expediency.  Fortunately, in Senator Mike Lee, Utah does have at least one principled leader, who is viewed to be a true policy wonk in Washington, DC.  According to a recent Deseret News article, with Paul Ryan’s departure from the house, Senator Lee will be the only real policy wonk in Washington DC

Senator Mike Lee 1

While there are some great thinkers on Capitol Hill, Ryan’s return to Wisconsin means there will be only one true policy entrepreneur left  in Congress – Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee. A few dabble in policy, usually when it is politically expedient, but Ryan and Lee embody a mindset about the proper role of representatives and senators. Both of them willingly engage with anyone from anywhere on the political spectrum to discuss policy issues and ideas.

And here closer to home, there are and have been several truly principled members of the Utah State Legislature, including Representative Marc Roberts, and Senator Mark Madsen — before his recent retirement.  But such principled politicians are few and far between.

If we are willing to take a serious look at the policies and principles behind what is going on in this year’s Republican Party tug-o-war, otherwise referred to as a primary, however, we should at least be able to recognize that taxpayers of every stripe are paying for an exclusive, political party game, that is clearly the product of collusion between the Utah State Republican Party and state lawmakers, which discriminates against everyone else.

In a nutshell, registered Republican voters are treated one way.  People who aren’t even registered are treated another.  Registered voters who are unaffiliated with any other party are treated yet another way.  And registered voters who affiliate with any other party are treated still another way, with more restriction than any of the other categories.

In what world can that be considered Equal Protection, and/or Uniform Operation of Law?  What reasonably articulable and legitimate basis is there for having different registration deadlines for people who aren’t registered to vote, versus unaffiliated registered voters, versus registered voters who are affiliated with a different political party — all intended to limit or encourage their ability to register as Republicans and qualify to vote in the Republican Party’s closed primary election?  What is the basis for treating them all so differently?   And state funds are used to perpetuate this discriminatory process?

Another good question that is just begging to be asked is how do local rural counties, including Millard County, actually even benefit from all this partisan bickering and strife?  Wouldn’t we all be better off if local county elections were non-partisan, like municipal elections and school board elections are?  How does the political party wrangling serve to benefit Millard County residents?  If anything, it only seems to disenfranchise many of them.

Attack of Political Signs 3And drilling down even further to brass tacks politics in Millard County this year, why aren’t any of the other Millard County Commission candidates talking about these real, fundamental issues, including how this election is being handled?  This is the epitome of one of those issues I keep referring to (the other side of the equation) that no one else seems to be willing to even acknowledge or talk about, let alone actually do something about.  Their attitudes seem to be, if they can simply manage to get elected, they don’t really seem to care how that happens, which is the epitome of political expediency, with little, if any, guiding principle — which is essentially business as usual for elected officials.  And if past history is any indication, this lack of interest in fundamental policy and supporting principles will undoubtedly become a pattern for their tenure in office.

But, the big question is: Will This be a Legitimate, and Lawful Election?