Opinion: When it comes to election trust, Utah stands apart from the nation
National polls show Americans losing faith in elections. Some are threatening election workers with violence. But in Utah, a new poll shows strong support from people in both political parties. Why is this?
In 2016, the worry was that Russia and other foreign governments were sticking their fingers in our elections.
Today, we look in the mirror and see that the problem is us.
Well, if you’re in Utah, you can set the mirror aside. It’s likely everyone in all those other states causing trouble, not you.
The latest poll by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 89% of Utahns are confident their state and local governments will conduct a fair election next month. The results don’t change much when you drill down to party affiliation, with 88% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats feeling the same way.
That’s remarkably different from many national polls, which tend to show that Republicans have far more distrust than Democrats or independents. A Gallup poll this month found that 59% of Americans have similar confidence, but only 44% of Republicans agreed.
But getting back to the overall problem, Russia is a bit preoccupied at the moment trying to attack a peaceful neighbor. Even Iran has its hands full with street protesters who want to overthrow the regime. They don’t seem to have time to meddle in the ’22 elections.
But Americans in other parts of the country are picking up the slack, and that’s a worry.
Reports are coming from all over about election officials resigning because of threats and harassment. A Reuters investigation said election officials in 10 of 17 Nevada counties have resigned, with four telling the news service it was because of harassment or endless challenges to election integrity. In Pennsylvania, the resignation count is more than 50 of the state’s 67 county election directors. In South Carolina, it’s 22 out of 46 counties, and in Texas, 30% have quit, including one county’s entire election staff.
And even in election-loving Utah, some clerks have reported being threatened by callers.
Senior U.S. officials told Reuters last week that homegrown threats and domestic disinformation — translation: Americans threatening election workers and spreading lies — are a bigger concern this year than anything coming from other nations. U.S. cybersecurity official Jen Easterly described this year’s election security challenges as “more complex than it has ever been.”
It’s easy to trace this election distrust to former President Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was rigged — something no audit or court challenge has confirmed. But I wonder if those Russian and Iranian disinformation campaigns in past years hit their marks, after all, exploiting a perfect opportunity to widen naturally forming divisions even further.
In 2020, the Brennan Center described how the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked company, launched influence campaigns on social media in 2016 and 2020, hoping to sway elections.
The Brennan Center said Russian trolls pretended to be Americans, or part of political groups, or even to be candidates. “They tried to sow division by targeting both the left and right with posts to foment outrage, fear, and hostility. Much of their activity seemed designed to discourage certain people from voting. And they focused on swing states.”
To underscore this, the Justice Department recently announced it was indicting Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Russian citizen, with conspiring to fund and influence political groups (which it declined to name) in Florida, California and Georgia, urging them to interfere with U.S. elections and further Russian propaganda.”
This, the department said, was done at least from December 2014 to March of this year. In a statement, assistant attorney general Matthew G. Olsen described it as “a brazen influence campaign, turning U.S. political groups and U.S. citizens into instruments of the Russian government.”
If the idea was to turn Americans against each other, history will tell you we hardly need outside influence to do that.
All of this matters because, if you are registered to vote in Utah, you likely have just received your ballot in the mail. What you do with it will be an expression of your faith in the system, or lack thereof.
Polls in the past have shown a healthy trust of elections in this country, despite our divisions. In 2004, Gallup found 76% confidence in election counts, even after all the drama surrounding Florida, with its pregnant chads, in the 2000 election. We didn’t resort to threats of violence back then.
Utahns apparently haven’t changed much through the years, despite some razor-thin races. We should be thankful for that, and we should hope the rest of the nation soon regains its faith in a part of democracy we desperately need to function well if the republic is to survive.