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SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution recognizing Utah's 2020 election success — a clear, factual absence of fraud — won approval from a panel of lawmakers Wednesday, but not without protests from some Republican legislators.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored HCR11 to acknowledge Utah's county clerks ran a widely successful election without significant problems in an election year when other states grappled with voting by mail and comments from former President Donald Trump that undermined the validity of the election results — baseless claims that lacked evidence and faltered in dozens of court cases.
"I just want to give a shoutout to Utah's county clerks for running a great election," Briscoe said in front of the House Government Operations Committee. "We've heard a lot in the press and the media about problems with elections, but that's not true in Utah. We talk a lot about the Utah way, and we run great elections in Utah."
Even though drama over voting by mail reverberated throughout the nation leading up to the 2020 election — fueled by Trump's incendiary commentary — that same drama didn't land in Utah, a state that has a nearly eight-year track record of voting by mail, starting in some counties.
Like other years, 2020 was no different. Election audits found no significant or widespread instances of fraud. Only slightly more than 1% of ballots were rejected, mostly because of signature validation issues, Briscoe said.
Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch, chairman of the Utah Clerk's Legislative Policy Committee, said he was "surprised and pleased" when he learned of Briscoe's resolution.
"As election officials, we always want the candidates on the front page, not us. We don't like the limelight, but certainly appreciate the recognition and gratitude for the work our teams have done, especially in the last year when it was really a fantastically crazy year from an election standpoint," he said.
Hatch said in conversations he's had with other election officials from other states, they've "joked about how Utah didn't seem to have any issues in 2020." One, he said, joked "sourly that Utah never seems to have any elections issues. Then they expressed appreciation for the help that Utah provided to them nationwide regarding ramping up voting by mail."
"So for elections in Utah I'm happy to say — and I can't speak for other states — but for Utah I'm happy to say that in 2020 the pre- and post-election audits that we always conduct revealed no discrepancies or errors throughout the state," Hatch said. "As your election officials, we are absolutely dedicated to conducting professional, accurate, transparent and fully trustworthy elections."
But Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding — who received a presidential pardon from Trump after he led an illegal protest in 2014 of ATV riders in southern Utah — balked at the resolution and tried to table it.
"I think there are enough in Utah that find the whole election process challenging and potentially problematic, and I just don't feel comfortable with that," Lyman said.
He pointed specifically to a line that recognizes "the security of the vote-by-mail process" and another line that recognizes "there were no accounts or charges of significant election fraud" in Utah's 2020 election.
County clerks across the state, Utah's top election officials, and post-election audits concluded the election was secure and free from significant fraud.
"It was a troublesome election on a national level for sure, and I think this bill glosses over that in the spirit of giving accolades to our clerks," Lyman said. "I'm really uncomfortable for the Legislature to step into this role. I think it sends a message that we don't necessarily want to send."
But another Republican, Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, opposed Lyman, saying the resolution includes "factual statements" about the election in Utah.
"I think this election has shown how easy it is to become fractured on things that sometimes don't matter," Waldrip said. "As I look at the language on its base both innocuous and it's just benign. It recognizes good things."
Waldrip said by rejecting the resolution, the House committee could "create subtext where there is no need to create subtext, that this is somehow ... a partisan thing."
"I just think we need to create in our electorate in Utah confidence — and well-deserved confidence — that our election process is well run," Waldrip said, stressing that is demonstrated by "the facts and the evidence."
Briscoe said all he's "trying to do here is separate Utah from everything else."
"I just want to spread a sportive message about Utah," he said.
Ultimately the House committee voted 7-2 to endorse the resolution and forward it to the full House for consideration. Only Rep. Michael Petersen, R-North Logan, joined Lyman in voting against it.