John Daley ReportingIt's perhaps the most important job in your state government, guarding the integrity of your political system. So why then is the Huntsman Administration re-shuffling the Elections Office and giving its employees a series of new duties? Government watchdogs are raising red flags.
Florida, the year 2000. Hanging chads and a monumental election crisis showed what can happen when it all goes wrong. In Utah overseeing the integrity of the process is up to the Elections Office, with a staff of five serving under the Lt. Governor. But under the new Huntsman administration, the office's director was not re-hired.
A memo from the Lt. Governor obtained by KSL-TV lays out a realignment, which includes “the elimination of the title of the ‘Elections Office.’"
Gary Herbert, (R) Lt. Governor: "There's nothing in the code that talks about an elections office, it really is the Lt. Governor's office, so it really ought to be under the umbrella of the Lt. Governor's office."
Herbert says 10 staffers total in his office will now be assigned additional duties including: homeland security, water, rural issues, and transportation, but he says elections are still a priority.
Gary Herbert, (R) Lt. Governor: "I guess downsize could be a way of putting it. But I don't know if downsize is the right term because we're keeping the same number of bodies."
But some government watchdogs say they're worried by this move. They say the amount of money in Utah politics has grown exponentially in recent years, and if anything, the Elections Office should be expanding.
Tim Chambless, U. of U. Political Science Professor: "If we have fewer eyes overseeing more responsibilities, then we have fewer people to perform that important check and balance."
Lorna Vogt, Utah Progressive Network: "The elections office also tracks lobbyists. The amount of money going that's going to our elected officials, it tracks those donation reports. It basically is the ethical watchdog over the political contribution and campaign financing systems of this state. So it's extremely important."
Herbert says no new staff will be added; without that, watchdogs say the integrity of elections is getting short shrift. Watchdog groups say Utah needs an independent Elections Office. The Lt. Governor says that's not necessary.
But a Dan Jones poll for KSL and the Deseret Morning News earlier this year found the public disagrees. 72% of Utahns polled say they favor the creation of an election commission to ensure fairness in the election process. 24% oppose that idea.