Why can't I track an in-person vote? How does a recount work? Utah's voting questions answered here

A voter fills in the ballot on the voting machine during the Election Day voting at Vivint SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

(Yukai Peng, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — With more people voting this election than ever before in Utah, it was bound to lead to more phone calls at the state election office as people have questions about the process, according to Utah's state elections director.

Justin Lee says that among those questions, one seems to come with a fairly obvious answer but has still left people confused.

Why can't I track my in-person ballot?

"It's really interesting, we've never really had confusion over this in previous years," Lee said. "But there's so much discussion around tracking your ballot and making sure your vote counted, that I guess it shouldn't be surprising that we're seeing so many people trying to check on their ballots."

The state's voter information website offers a feature for residents voting by mail, or those with provisional ballots, to track their ballot once it's sent in to make sure it was counted. But, some people have misunderstood the feature thinking it works for in-person voting as well — even though a person who votes in person will have their vote accounted for immediately.

When someone votes in person, the moment they get checked in and go vote their vote is counted, Lee explained.

"At that point, there's no question that their vote is going to count," he said. "When they go and vote on that machine, that vote is already anonymous."

This year, Lee said they've had some people checking the website to see if their in-person vote was counted, even though the website was never set up for that; it's only set up to help mail-in ballots because "that is the place people would have a question of whether or not there's an issue, or whether or not it would count."

In-person voters don't need to worry about if their vote was counted — it already happened right on election night.

"It's going to count, it's automatically counted," Lee said. "Anyone who voted in person, their vote was counted over a week ago on election night."

Past that confusion, Lee's office has seen a few other common questions popping up as well.

What does a recount look like in Utah?

The largest race in Utah not yet called is the 4th Congressional District, with Republican challenger Burgess Owens leading incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams as of Friday.

There has not been a recount in a congressional district race in recent memory, Lee said.

Most recounts in the state are typically seen in smaller state races, like those running for a seat in Utah's House of Representatives, because there are simply fewer votes involved, Lee said.

"Recounts aren't uncommon, but we don't see a lot of races that end up in recount territory," Lee said.

If a close race falls between 400 votes or less than 0.25% of the total number of votes, the losing candidate can file a recount request before 5 p.m. within a week after the initial canvass.

When that happens, every single ballot cast in that race is recounted, all uncounted ballots are reexamined, and the candidate with the highest number of votes from the recount is declared the winner.

Since election night, it's depended on the day whether McAdams or Owens is leading and by how much — they were once separated by under 20 votes.

It is "definitely still a possibility," Lee said, that the race could ultimately qualify for a recount, but votes are still being counted. Lee expects votes could even still be tabulated right up until Tuesday's deadline.

The statewide canvass will take place on Nov. 23 this year.

Why is it taking so long to count votes?

"It is not abnormal for us to take this much time to count the ballots, even before vote-by-mail," Lee said. "We want to give every voter the opportunity to make sure their vote is counted. So, that does take a little time."

There are still outstanding ballots that needed to be counted, as well. And with an additional 300,000 voters this year — setting a record for highest voter turnout in Utah history — it's going to take some time to get through them all, he added.

"That's just going to take some time to process," Lee said.

Provisional ballots, which a voter can fill out if there are questions about that person's ability to vote in an area, require extra work as well.

"They basically act as a voter registration form, which means the identification documents that were provided need to be verified," Lee explained. "They need to be put into the system, and then the ballot is separated and counted."

If any voter has an issue with their ballot — like a signature not matching, for example — they have an opportunity to fix that deficiency right up until the day before the county's canvass.

"Counties want to give these voters that have any issue as much time as possible to fix those problems," Lee said.

In Utah, workers are able to count ballots so long as they were postmarked no later than the day before Election Day but received before next Monday, Lee said. Several counties in Utah have used mail ballots for years, including Utah, Davis, Weber and Salt Lake counties.

The county's workers are simply doing their job, which does take time.

"These workers do a very good job; they're well-trained by the counties," Lee said. "In most cases, this is not the first time that they've done this, and this is not the first time our county clerks, who ultimately oversee the county process, have done this."

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Lauren Bennett is a reporter with KSL.com who covers Utah’s religious community and the growing tech sector in the Beehive State.


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