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Election Day voter registration poses ‘very little risk’ for fraud, audit finds

Strong controls are already in place to prevent Utahns who register to vote on Election Day from casting more than one ballot, according to a statewide audit released Wednesday by the Utah Legislative Auditor General’s Office.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Strong controls are already in place to prevent Utahns who register to vote on Election Day from casting more than one ballot, according to a statewide audit released Wednesday by the Utah Legislative Auditor General’s Office.

There is actually “very little risk for fraudulent voting” in those cases, the audit found, because those new voters are required to cast provisional ballots that aren’t counted until after the election, during the two weeks officials have to verify voter eligibility and make other checks, including whether more than one ballot was cast.

Nearly 1.1 million votes were cast in Utah’s 2018 midterm election, including 54,000 provisional ballots. Of the almost 2,000 provisional ballots rejected in that election, just 115 ended up not being counted due to double-voting, the audit stated.

Most of the rejected provisional ballots were the result of “incomplete or illegible registration cards, no proof of ID or residency, or cards that simply lack signatures,” according to the audit.

The audit described finding “a small number (0.012%) of multiple ballots” reported for the same voters in reviewing seven sample counties, including Salt Lake, Utah and Davis, but “due to strong controls, only one ballot was counted per individual in an election.”

Counties reported “that most of these rejected votes were due to voter error and not due to intentional voter fraud,” the audit said, such as someone mailing in their ballot, then forgetting that they had voted and showing up at the polls on Election Day.

Cache County’s report that 14 provisional ballots in the 2018 election were identified as double votes and then rejected. In all 14 instances, voters had sent in a mail-in ballot and later filled out a provisional ballot at a polling location.

In those cases, the provisional ballot was rejected once election officials checked the state’s voter database during the two-week vote canvass. Because that same database is updated in real time, the audit said someone registering to vote on Election Day would not be able to repeat the process at another location.

None of Cache County double votes were seen as “intentional voter fraud” by election officials, the audit stated, noting there was no particular age group more likely to apparently be forgetful about voting since the birth years of the voters who cast two ballots ranged from 1925 to 1999.

Same-day voter registration started in 2014 as a pilot program, with seven of the eight participating counties reporting in 2016 that about 1.4% of voters chose to register and vote on Election Day. The 2018 Legislature made same day voter registration the law statewide.

The risk of someone who lives out of state voting in a Utah election was deemed low by the audit, although the possibility was acknowledged because of the lag time in updating a multistate voter database. But none of the seven sampled counties reported any instances in 2018 of cross-state voting.

The problems with elections cited by the audit are related to the shift to voter choice, which allows Utahns to cast their ballots by mail or in person even before Election Day and has resulted in “long lines and slow voting in some polling locations.”

The state requested more than $4.1 million in federal funds to help secure elections last year that required around a $205,000 match from the state, money being used to pay for upgrades to voting equipment and the voter database, as well as training and “more robust” auditing.

State Elections Director Justin Lee’s formal response to the audit stated his office had no issues with the findings.