SALT LAKE CITY — This week registered voters will start to get their mail-in ballots in Utah. And from now past election night, volunteer poll watchers are keeping an eye on the process.
Candidates, groups, and political parties have poll watchers, and state law allows it.
Officials say they welcome the extra eyes.
“I think it is imperative to have third parties check the process,” said Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner. “I think it is great to have confidence in our elections.”
Gardner says her office facilitates and welcomes poll watchers. They cut large windows in the wall of the ballot center so anyone from the public could watch the tabulation.
How poll watchers do their work
Davis County Clerk/Auditor Curtis Koch says poll watchers don’t just come on election night. They can watch as workers tabulate and verify Utah’s mail-in ballots for the next three weeks.
“The caveat is, based on the election area that they are watching, there can be limited poll watchers (because of social distancing). So we do give preference to candidates, initiatives and political parties,” said Koch.
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Some poll watcher volunteers come from the ACLU of Utah. Voting Rights Coordinator Niki Venugopal says she wants them to report any major issues at a polling place to the ACLU.
“But we are not expecting those,” she said.
Venugopal says volunteers are also driving around the counties in Utah, checking secure locked boxes. Though she said they have not had any issues with drop boxes before, either.
Poll watching on social media
She also assigns ACLU volunteers to watch social media.
“We are all inundated on our social media feeds with a lot of information and not a lot is accurate,” said Venugopal. The watchers are supposed to look out for attempts to mislead voters or suppress voters with misinformation or disinformation.
Powers does a lot of correcting people online as well. She reminds them that elections are different state by state and even county by county.
“That can cause some confusion if you see your cousin in California posting something that’s different than in Utah County,” she said.
She said people should go to the source to get the information for their location. Then share correct information and give your county clerk’s website or vote.utah.gov.
Koch says knowing the facts helps with public trust in the elections.
“We have wonderful staff that are your friends and neighbors that are running this election. And that’s what you see statewide. That’s part of the security of the system.”
Read more about the rules for poll watchers in various states here.
Why is KSL NewsRadio covering this?
This story is part of a series explaining the process behind elections in the United States and Utah. We wanted to answer commonly asked questions about the process.
Where did the idea come from?
It came from you! Listeners like you text, email or message us regularly with questions just like this one that sometimes become stories.
How did KSL report the story?
Just like you, when we need to answer tough questions, we perform searches -- sometimes using the library, sometimes online. We also consult with experts in the appropriate field to answer our questions. In this case, that meant going to the source: county clerks who have the job of tallying ballots and running a fair election. We then double-checked the information we find for accuracy and potential bias.
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