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Summit County GOP Chair criticizes election process in message to supporters

Election officials count absentee ballots on Nov, 3, 2020, in Beloit, Wis.
Scott Olson
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Election officials count absentee ballots on Nov, 3, 2020, in Beloit, Wis.

Summit County Republican Party Chair Karen Ballash recently sent an email to supporters challenging the integrity of local elections.

Ballash wrote that she’s become increasingly alarmed about the election in November, noting that voters have told her that mail-in ballots and machines won’t result in a free and fair process.

The email also included links to videos from the so-called “Moment of Truth Summit,” a two-day event held earlier this year in Springfield, Missouri for election deniers hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

According to Reuters, Lindell is being investigated by the FBI for identity theft and conspiring to damage voting equipment in Mesa County, Colorado.

In an interview with KPCW, Ballash said she didn’t have proof of a fraudulent election. But when asked about the validity of the 2020 presidential election, she said she has questions.

“There were huge boat rallies that just happened where nine miles of boats get in a line and rally for Trump," Ballash said.

"And you’re like 80 million votes? That Joe Biden got 80 million votes — it’s just a lot to swallow.”

Ballash and some of her party colleagues previously submitted requests to the county for the cast vote record, which is an electronic record of the date and time a ballot was cast and how it was processed. Those requests were denied because it is not public information in Utah.

At the “Moment of Truth” election fraud summit in August, Lindell urged those viewing to request cast vote records. He told CNN that he sees the records as a way to “detect machine manipulation.”

Lindell was permanently banned by Twitter for spreading election misinformation earlier this year. He has also been sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems, which sells voting hardware and software.

Summit County Clerk Eve Furse, who oversees local elections, said she’s received dozens of requests for the cast vote record in the past two years. She credited mail-in voting for the county’s 92% turnout in the 2020 election.

“The claims about election fraud in Utah are very questionable, as far as the motivation for making the claims goes," Furse said.

"Because, the bottom line is the only race anybody’s contending is the presidential race. And Trump won Utah. So it’s not clear to me that there’s a motivation that actually relates to election fraud when people are talking about it.”

Furse, who is a Democrat, is facing write-in candidate and Henefer resident Dawn Mathieson Langston in the November election. In an interview, Langston said she had concerns about ballot drop boxes and suggested the need for more in-person voting locations.

Utah is the only Republican-led state that allows all elections to be conducted by mail. The Legislature allowed counties to adopt mail-in voting a decade ago.

This year, state lawmakers considered several changes to the election process in Utah. They passed a requirement for 24-hour surveillance at ballot drop boxes and stricter voter ID rules. They did not approve a proposal that would have ended universal vote by mail.

In a written statement to KPCW, Utah’s director of elections Ryan Cowley said the state’s elections are “secure and transparent.” He added that local election officials consider security their number one priority, and people with questions should meet with their county clerk.

Katy Owens Hubler is the chair of the Summit County Democratic Party.

“I think this shows how extreme some parts of the Republican Party have become," Hubler said.

"And they’re not winning on the merits of their platform, so they’re attacking our democratic institutions. And I have the utmost faith in our county clerk to administer a fair election.”

All countywide elected positions are currently held by Democrats.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Utahns have until October 28 to register in order to receive a mail-in ballot. Registered voters can expect to receive a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before the election. To register to vote, update registration, or see a sample ballot, people can visit vote.utah.gov.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.