PANGUITCH, Garfield County — An apparent miscommunication between Garfield County elections officials and a vendor that prints vote-by-mail ballots led to residents in two southern Utah communities not receiving their ballots in a timely matter, county officials said.
It’s unclear where or when the miscommunication happened; however, Garfield County auditor/clerk Camille Moore told KSL.com Monday that residents in Panguitch and Escalante were affected by the error. Residents were only now receiving their ballots for Tuesday’s election, she added. She believed the remaining ballots were delivered Monday.
In setting up the vote-by-mail option, which all counties in the state will have for the 2020 election, county clerks send the ballot print vendor a file that includes the addresses and ballots. The vendor then prints out the ballots and mail them to residents. Those residents usually have a few weeks to vote and mail them back to the county or drop them off in official elections boxes to be collected.
Moore said she uploaded a test file with the company that worked, but the real file with residents’ addresses appeared to quit about one-third of the time it was loading. She said she wasn’t aware the vendor hadn’t received the full list of addresses until she started receiving questions from residents a few weeks ago.
“The rest of the precincts in my county went out no problem, but those weren’t printed or didn’t go out,” Moore said.
KSL.com was unable to get in contact with the vendor for this story.
When it had reached Oct. 28 and the ballots still weren’t in, Moore said she went back to the printing company to figure out the problem. Since then, the ballots were printed. But with a week left until the election at that point, there wasn’t any certainty when or if the residents of the two cities — which have a combined population of a little less than 2,500 — would get their ballots in time.
County and city officials raced to inform the public about places to vote in-person for Tuesday’s elections. Officials resorted to signs at businesses, social media posts, reverse 911 robocalls, announcements at community events and even asked churches in Panguitch and Escalante to spread information about where to vote in Tuesday’s election since voters were still reporting not having received their ballot last week, Moore said. Additional voting booths were added within the two cities to help reduce any lines.
“We’re doing everything we can, and we’ve got the word out as well as we can,” she said.
The county’s website also displays a message that reads: “There were shipping complications with the ballots for Escalante and Panguitch City voters. If you have not received your ballot and want to vote immediately, you may vote for Panguitch City Council at the Garfield County Courthouse and Escalante City Council at the Escalante City Office Building during normal business hours.”
Here is where residents in those two cities can vote:
Escalante City Office Building, 56 N. 100 West.
Tuesday hours: 7 a.m. through 8 p.m.
Garfield County Courthouse, 55 S. Main
Tuesday hours: 7 a.m. through 8 p.m.
While county officials say they have worked to overcome the obstacle, at least one Utah group has blasted the county for the printing problem in the first place. The Alliance for a Better Utah, a nonprofit group that promotes government advocacy and accountability, called out the county for what its executive director, Chase Thomas, described as a “sizeable failure.”
“Simply put, the fact that ballots were not sent to voters of Garfield County in a timely and legally-required manner is a sizeable failure. After Utahns have become accustomed to voting by mail-in ballots, any failure in the system is a burden on voters and will inevitably result in people not being able to vote,” Thomas said in a statement Sunday.
“We are working with our community partners in the area to learn more about this unacceptable incident and where the breakdown in the process occurred. If necessary, we will work to hold any responsible government officials or entities responsible and to ensure this does not happen again in the future.”
As for Moore, she said it was a situation she hadn’t seen before and the county was able to address.
“I hope we never have it again,” she said.
Anyone with questions about voting Tuesday can call the Garfield County Office at 435-676-1200.