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Republican Utah lawmaker who called for ‘forensic’ audit of state’s 2020 election abruptly resigns

Rep. Steve Christiansen also retires from employment with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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State Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, speaks during a rally.

State Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, speaks during a rally calling for a forensic vote audit at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

The Republican Utah lawmaker who received backlash for leading a rally and packing a misinformation-fraught committee hearing on Utah’s Capitol Hill last week to call for an Arizona-style election audit of the state’s 2020 election results has tendered his resignation.

Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, sent an email at 9:36 p.m. Thursday to Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and other members of the House GOP caucus with a copy of a lengthy resignation letter attached.

Christiansen, who told his crowd of about 200 supporters he’s seeking a widespread “forensic” audit in Utah even though former President Donald Trump handily won the state in 2020, said he’s tendering his resignation with “very mixed emotions.”

“While I expected, unfortunately, to be personally maligned and ridiculed as a public servant, I did not expect to see individuals attack my wife as they have, nor to see the significance of the impact of those attacks on her and our family,” Christiansen wrote in his resignation letter. “Primarily for that reason, it has become necessary to ‘pause.’”

However, Christiansen hinted he may in the future return to politics.

“We are in the midst of a Constitutional crisis of epic proportions and there is much to be done! The day may come when I re-enter the public arena,” he wrote. “In the meantime, however, I plan to maintain a strong voice for freedom and liberty and remain engaged in the battle to ensure election integrity, medical freedom, and the protection of families.”

Christiansen’s resignation comes after he received criticism from not just Democrats for casting doubt on the integrity of Utah’s election — even though there’s been no evidence of election fraud in Utah — but also members of his own party. That includes Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, both Republicans, who said in a joint statement last week they were left “frustrated by the misinformation” Christiansen presented in the committee hearing.

“We recognize some voters have legitimate questions about our elections and we invite all citizens to be involved in our local elections to see the process first-hand. But make no mistake: There is absolutely no evidence of election fraud in Utah,” Cox and Henderson’s statement said in part.

In response to Christiansen’s rally, the Deseret News editorial board wrote an editorial saying another audit of Utah’s election would be “costly and damaging,” noting “not a whiff of irregularity has tainted” the state’s 2020 election.

A staff member from the Utah House Speaker’s office confirmed Wilson and other members of the House GOP caucus received the letter Thursday night.

“I wish Steve the best and congratulate him on his retirement,” Wilson said in a prepared statement.

As news of Christiansen’s resignation spread, the Utah Democratic Party issued a prepared statement saying they “unequivocally condemn attacks on the families of elected officials.”

“However,” the statement continued, “Rep. Christiansen made a name for himself in our state and nationally as a peddler of dangerous conspiracy theories. By aligning himself closely with insurrectionists who sought to destroy our system of government and way of life, Rep. Christiansen put our state, nation, and democratic ideals in jeopardy.”

The Utah Democratic Party added: “His loss from the legislature is a win and gain for democracy, our shared sense of patriotism, and for our nation as a whole. The fewer elected officials like Christiansen in legislatures nationwide, the safer our children are from a future of authoritarianism.”

Christiansen also noted in his letter he’s retiring from his employment with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as director of Presiding Bishopric Projects with the church, according to his LinkedIn page.

“My desire is to actively express my feelings in support of liberty and our Republic. In doing so, I do not wish to infer that my views represent those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Christiansen wrote in his resignation letter.

“I therefore believe it is best to retire from Church employment to avoid potential misunderstandings. I believe this will help the Church preserve its long-held position of political neutrality in matters of party politics.”

Christiansen added: “The decision to leave Church employment is mine alone. I appreciate the support I have felt for my desire to serve as an elected official. Never have I been pressured to vote one way or another.”

In addition to pushing for a “forensic” audit of Utah’s 2020 election after he went to Maricopa County, Arizona, in June to observe the audit that took place there, Christiansen also pushed “election reform,” which would entail severely restricting voting by mail — a voting method that’s existed in Utah for almost a decade — and voting machines.

That’s even though Christiansen himself has voted by mail in every single election since at least 2016, as UtahPolicy.com first reported using records of Christiansen’s voting history.

The Arizona audit of 2.1 million votes, financed largely by $6.7 million in donations from far-right groups and Trump defenders, affirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in that county, finding 99 additional votes for Biden and 261 fewer votes for Trump.

Supporters of Arizona’s controversial audit inaccurately claim it showed evidence of voter fraud and found so-called “lost votes” affected Arizona’s election outcome. Those claims have been debunked.

Christiansen continued to call for an election audit in Utah even though he has presented no evidence of widespread election fraud or issues in Utah’s election results. Acknowledging he has no proof, Christiansen argued there’s no harm in conducting a widespread audit to confirm the state’s elections are, indeed, free and fair.

It’s important to note Utah’s elections are already audited on the state and local level in a certification process called a canvass. Before the certification of an election — in a public meeting — clerk staff conduct an audit of a random sample of all ballots cast. During the audit, they manually review and compare the audited ballots to the system-tabulated record to ensure the accuracy of the equipment. The audit results are public records that are reported to the Board of Canvassers and the lieutenant governor, who oversees elections in the state.

While stepping away from the Utah House, Christiansen wrote in his resignation letter he will “continue teaching the importance of our Constitution and the need to uphold constitutional principles through in-person presentations throughout the state, as I have done for the last six months.”

He also plugged his podcast, Restoring Liberty, as the channel he’ll use to “educate regarding the history of our nation and the Constitution, and provide analyses of current events.”