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Why isn’t Utah being sued by the Republican National Committee over its vote by mail program?

Key Points

  • In 2012, the Republican controlled legislature passed a bill that “authorizes an election officer to administer an election entirely by mail.” Current Republican Party Chair Derek Brown who was in the legislature at the time voted for the bill; gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes voted against it; gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright was Republican Party Chair in 2012.
  • This raises the question of why the National Republican Committee would be suing the state of California over its recently announced vote by mail program while giving Utah a pass.
  • Utah Republicans also support election-day voter registration and online voter registration which makes it easy to change party affiliation.

Utah Republicans are arguably more closely aligned with California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi than with the National Republican Committee (NRC) when it comes to vote by mail.

In fact, two Republican legislators, Representative Steve Eliason and Senator Curt Bramble, passed a bill in 2012 that “authorizes an election officer to administer an election entirely by mail.” That bill was supported by both the Republican and Democratic Parties and had no problem passing the legislature by votes of 54-21 in the House and 21-4 in the Senate. At the time, Republicans supporting the bill saw it as a means of increasing their super-majorities in the House and Senate. Current Republican Party Chair Derek Brown voted for the bill. Gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes voted against it. Gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright was Republican Party Chair when the bill passed.

According to a report on the December 6, 2014 Republican Party State Central Committee(SCC) meeting, the SCC was told, “In Utah, our Republican ‘Vote By Mail’, ‘Get Out the Vote’, and individual candidate campaign efforts were very successful, and we picked up three House seats in Salt Lake County that were previously held by Democrats.”

On May 13, 2015, Stan Lockhart, a former Republican State Party Chair wrote in Utah Politico Hub. “I thought I’d set down some ideas to get greater participation in Utah’s political process. These included a greater emphasis on getting voters to vote-by-mail. How about automatic vote-by-mail request when registering a voter?” Lockhart also suggested that the Party should persuade unaffiliated voters to register as Republicans which is the strategy now being implemented by the Huntsman campaign.

So, vote by mail is a Republican backed program in Utah and since the initial bill was passed in 2012 Republicans have continued to support and expand it.

It should be noted that Utah Republicans have also supported election-day voter registration in order to increase voter turnout as well as online voter registration. Both of these were recommended by the Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy created by Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. in 2009 and continued under Governor Gary Herbert. The online voter registration has facilitated voter registration and made it easier to quickly change party affiliation.

This raises the question of why the National Republican Committee would be suing the state of California over its recently announced vote by mail program while giving Utah a pass. After all the National Republican Committee didn’t hesitate to intervene in Utah when it learned that Utah voters could make their voter registrations totally private. And, acting on behalf of the National Republican Committee, state Republican Party Chair Derek Brown spent weeks at the legislature to get the law changed so the Republican Party has access to every registered voter’s information, including that of all unaffiliated voters, with very limited exceptions.

So, is Utah off the hook because California’s program was implemented statewide by executive order by a Democratic governor and Utah’s program was enacted by a vote of the Republican controlled legislature, signed by a Republican governor?

Is it because Utah gives each county the option of conducting the November 2020 general election by in-person voting, by vote by mail or by a combination of the two while California’s November general election will be conducted 100% by mail?

Is it because a Utah’s vote by mail program is less prone to fraud than California’s and if so what are the safeguards in Utah’s program that are lacking in the California program? For example, what is there in Utah’s program that allows election officials to catch missionary parents filling out their children’s vote by mail ballots?

It certainly isn’t because California allows ballot harvesting and Utah doesn’t. That may have been the case prior to May 12, 2020 but the 2020 Utah state legislature removed provisions in Utah code that that required voters to submit their own ballots. That change was made in HB36 sponsored by Suzanne Harrison (D) and Todd Weiler (R) . The bill passed by a unanimous vote of both houses of the legislature.

Ronald Mortensen

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