The Status of Electoral Reform in Utah

Today is Green Blog Action Day over at Green Change.  The topic for today is electoral reform, which is addressed  in the Green Party’s platform.   It will be interesting to read from bloggers on Green Change from all over the country on the topic of electoral reform.   My contribution to the Green Blog Action Day today is to provide a summary of electoral issues in Utah, including bills up for adoption during this year’s Legislative Session.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, that resulted in granting corporations the same constitutional rights as people have, has, in essence, made a mockery of campaign finance laws and election laws in general.   We have before us, then, greater challenges than ever before in the world of electoral politics.

One of the biggest issues at the forefront in Utah has been election fraud, an issue that many states have faced.  Voters have found in recent years that their votes haven’t counted or they weren’t even able to vote, or that the electronic voting machines were flawed.  Greens, such as David Cobb, 2004 Green Party Presidential Candidate, have been at the forefront of demanding vote recounts in elections where fraud was suspected.  "Either every vote is sacred, or democracy is a sham."~ David Cobb, December 2009

Many readers may remember the Utah election news of 2006 that made national headlines, news that cost one brave Utah Elections Clerk his job.  This video clip says it all:

Election Integrity is the focus of  Utah: Count Votes!, which has a number of documents posted at its site on election laws in Utah.  Created by renowned Mathematician Kathy Dopp (Green who ran for Summit County Elections Clerk in 2006), the site is filled with accounts, facts and evidence of election fraud in Utah’s elections history:

Utah must adopt the same measures that California has adopted if Utah wants fair and accurate election outcomes. California source code reviews and red team penetration tests found that "the Diebold software contains vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to install malicious software on voting machines and on its central election management systems, which could cause votes to be recorded incorrectly or to be miscounted" and that "some threats would be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy with election procedures". The Diebold Source Code Review Team found that "both the electronic and paper records of the Diebold TSx direct recording electronic voting machine contain enough information to compromise the secrecy of the ballot". Diebold voting system violates the Utah constitution which requires a secret ballot.

(NOTE:  Kathy Dopp is now in New York pursuing a PhD in political science and has a blog entitled "Election Mathematics").

This year’s lawmakers in Utah will be considering H.B. 95 Certification of Voting Equipment Modifications, which
requires voting equipment to be certified by the United States Election Assistance Commission

The EAC is an independent entity, established by the Help America Vote Act to help ensure election integrity in the United States.  More bills before the Utah Legislature are listed towards the end of this post.

Election integrity issues are not unique to national and state elections in Utah.  The ACLU of Utah reported election irregularities in the Ogden Municpal election of 2007.

The report concludes that while the letter of the law may not have been fully abridged, the spirit of the election was certainly violated by inappropriate actions, including unnecessary voter challenges and poll worker error. The report also details that 146 voters were challenged, 1646 provisional ballots were cast, and of those 478 were rejected. 180 of the 478 rejected votes were not counted because the voter was not registered, but the remaining 298 were discounted due to technical or other error.
As a result of this investigation, the ACLU made these recommendations:
legislative reform, enhanced election oversight and standardized, higher quality training for election officials. The organization also encourages civic groups to participate in the process in order to assure transparency and voter confidence.

The ACLU of Utah continues its efforts to educate constituents on a variety of issues, one being Election Day Registration, eliminating the need for provisional ballots (interestingly, see comment below list of bills before Utah’s lawmakers this year about Utah’s "abandoned bills").

The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy published a series of recommendations in the areas of campaign finance, voting accessibility, and enforcement presented to the Governor in November 2009:


Local public radio station, KCPW, aired a segment on Election Reform in Utah, which can be heard here

2010 could be the year for campaign finance reform in Utah.  The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy has approved several recommendations that are being turned into bills at the state legislature, including campaign contribution limits and a commission to enforce election laws.  We talk with Commission Chairman Kirk Jowers and State Representative Craig Frank.

There are a number of other bills being addressed on elections and campaigns in Utah, some listed below (click on the link to read the bill).

On Voting:
HB0079Valid Voter Identification Amendments
HB0161Voter Registration Amendments
HB0044Referendum Ballot Proposition Amendments
HB0244Provisional Ballot Amendments for Unregistered Voters
HB0245Voter Challenge Amendments
HB0254Voter Identification Amendments
HB0258Voting Precinct Boundaries
HB0358Voting by Mail
SB0053Voter Challenge Revisions

On Elections:
HB0368Election Day Voting Centers
SB0018Election Modifications
SB0119Special Elections Modifications
SB0195Elections, Lobbying, and Campaign Finance Enforcement Commission

On Campaign Finance:

HB0056Amended Campaign Financial Statements
HB0059Campaign Finance Revisions
HB0124 and HB0124S01Campaign Funds Expenditure Restrictions
HB0160Campaign Finance Provisions

It is interesting to note at the bottom of the page on Elections bills, these two bills that were "abandoned" (and therefore have no link to their texts):  "Oversight of Local Elections" and "Same Day Voter Registration"

Utah has interesting and challenging issues before its Legislators at this time.  Democracy is eminently at stake.  It is important that citizens closely monitor election bills, contact /visit their representatives to register their desires on issues, write letters to the editors of their local newspapers, visit the capitol during the legislative session, and attend any opportunities afforded to citizens to learn more about the legislative process.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch, Green Party Watch, and Green Change)





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