Outgoing Republican Gov. Gary Herbert says he would take a “dim view” of outsiders telling Utah it’s not running its elections correctly.

“I expect that if I would be offended if people came in and told us how to run our elections, other states would be offended if we went to their state and told them how to run their elections,” he said.

Herbert’s comments came Thursday in response to questions about GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes joining 17 states in an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit challenging the presidential election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The governor said it was “disappointing” to first hear about Reyes involving Utah in the case Wednesday from the press.

As Herbert and GOP Gov.-elect Spencer Cox condemned the action, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Thursday that Utah is now among six states that have formally joined the lawsuit. The others are Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

“By flouting state and federal election laws, the defendant battleground states have tainted the integrity of citizens’ votes across the entire nation,” Paxton said in a statement.

Gov.-elect Spencer Cox speaks during a briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Cox, who as lieutenant governor oversees state elections, also weighed in on the issue Thursday during a press conference on COVID-19.

“Utah’s involvement will not change the outcome of that brief. It will not change the outcome of that lawsuit in any way. That would all happen whether or not Utah got involved,” he said.

Voter fraud is always a possibility, Cox said.

“But you actually have to have evidence. I know there’s a lot of evidence on YouTube and the interwebs. I’ve looked at it. It’s all been easily debunked. I keep waiting for the smoking gun that has been promised. I’ve yet to see it,” he said.

Both he and Herbert called Utah’s involvement a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. They issued a joint statement Wednesday after learning Reyes signed onto a brief supporting a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Texas case.

Herbert, Cox condemn Utah A.G. Reyes joining Texas lawsuit challenging election

Paxton’s lawsuit contends that the four states’ actions raise serious concerns about election integrity and “undermined the liberty of all Americans.” The suit demands that the 62 total Electoral College votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin be invalidated. If set aside, that would be enough to swing the election to President Donald Trump.

The attorneys general in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin issued a joint statement Thursday, saying it’s well past time for Trump and other states to stop misleading people about the election and acknowledge the results reflect the decision made by voters.

Reyes said in a prepared statement Wednesday that Utah joined the brief because there are questions about the election process and constitutional integrity that need to be answered nationally. He said the high court must decide whether state legislatures or the courts determine the time and place for voting. 

“If the election was fair, the Supreme Court should say so. If not, it should say that. Either way, it should say something and not avoid the question,” he said.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said Reyes was not available for an interview Thursday because he was participating in Republican Attorney General’s Association meetings in Washington, D.C. Reyes and other GOP attorneys general, including Paxton, were also Trump’s guests for lunch, according to the White House.

Reyes spokesman Rich Piatt said the amicus brief came together quickly Wednesday. The attorney’s general’s chief of staff, Ric Cantrell, called the governor’s lawyer, Ron Gordon, about 30 minutes before it was filed to give him a heads up. Reyes did not have a conversation with Herbert or Cox, Piatt said.

The only taxpayer expense was Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak reading the brief and sending an email affirming the state’s involvement, according to Piatt.

Herbert said his office meets monthly with the attorney general’s office about litigation so he isn’t “blindsided” about what’s going on. He said he wonders if Texas has standing to bring cases involving other states and doesn’t know if Utah has standing to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

Challenging election irregularities should be on the table but should be the responsibility of the candidate and the campaign, the governor said.

Reyes said the issue is not only about one candidate or the 2020 election, but assuring the election process is fair and uniform now and in the future.

An attorney, Cox said he feels bad that people are being preyed upon.

“Look, confirmation bias is a helluva drug. It just is. We all want to be proven right, we do. It’s natural. I get it. But it can also be dangerous,” he said.

Cox said he’s spoken to attorneys — good, mediocre and bad — who practice election law and all of them say there’s no chance for cases challenging the results to succeed.

“Losing elections is really hard and it sucks and we would all like to hope or think that there’s a reason that we lost that is maybe different than the actual reason,” he said.

Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart tweeted his support Thursday for Reyes’ efforts to “clear up critical concerns regarding the election.”

“There are questions that clearly need to be answered & this lawsuit is an effort to get those. We need all of the information to restore faith in our election process,” he said.

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Utah House Democrats put out a statement Thursday saying Reyes continues to misuse the power of his office. They called for more scrutiny of the attorney general’s budget to ensure the office is properly serving the interests of the state.

“The attorney general should immediately withdraw Utah from this embarrassing and irresponsible lawsuit,” the statement said.

Dozens of posts on the attorney general’s Facebook page and elsewhere on social media expressed support for Reyes involving Utah in the lawsuit, including from former Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman.

“Good work @SeanReyesUT and the many other AGs who are wanting fair and transparent elections in every state. It is an uphill battle but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the fight,” Tolman tweeted.

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