Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday said he welcomes the legislative audit Utah lawmakers recently ordered of the state’s election system because state officials have “no fear” of the review.

  • “We have no fear whatsoever of this type of audit,” Cox said during his monthly PBS Utah news conference. “We’re not afraid at all of auditing our systems. We stand by them.”

Why is Utah auditing its elections?

The Republican governor’s comments come after the GOP-controlled Utah Legislative Audit Subcommittee voted last week to order a legislative audit.

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That vote was preceded by a separate effort to put an independent, “forensic” audit on Utah’s ballot — an effort that was led by a Republican Utah lawmaker who resigned in October amid backlash for spearheading a committee hearing fraught with misinformation on Utah’s Capitol Hill to call for an Arizona-style election audit, even though former President Donald Trump handily won Utah in 2020.

  • Before he resigned, Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, rallied his supporters to call for an independent, “forensic” audit like the one seen in Arizona, where an outside firm was hired to conduct a review after Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen. That review, though described by experts as riddled with errors, and biased and flawed methodology, confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s win in the state.
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It’s important to note the legislative audit ordered by Utah lawmakers is not the same as an Arizona-style, “forensic” audit, but it still came after Christiansen rallied support for one.

Do election audits help or hurt trust?

Asked whether he’s worried that the legislative audit would decrease confidence in Utah’s voting system, Cox told reporters that’s not what he’s concerned about.

  • “I’m not worried that it’s going to decrease confidence in our voting. In fact, I think it will do just the opposite,” Cox said. “For those who are really interested in the truth, it will just add to the confidence.”

The governor noted Utah conducted the same kind of audit just two years ago in 2019.

  • “That audit was very conclusive,” Cox said, noting it studied specifically “people signing up to vote and the processes we had in place to prevent double voting and those types of things. And we came back with a clean bill of health. It was a very positive audit.”

Cox, referring back to his time as the state’s top election official as lieutenant governor under former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said he can speak with authority as someone “who ran elections” in Utah for over seven years.

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Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. | Leah Hogsten

What about election conspiracy theorists?

However, the governor added he does “worry” about a certain group of people — those who have bought into “conspiracy theories” and are only interested in lowering “the trust in the system so that they can make it harder for people to vote.”

  • “That’s not something I’m interested in,” Cox said. “And I don’t think any audit will satisfy that small subset of people — small but very vocal subset of people — who have bought into conspiracy theories and are willing to just spread lies without any proof.”

Cox brushed aside that group, saying “there’s nothing I can do about” them.

  • “They’re not going to believe anything I say, and they’re not going to believe anything that the auditors say,” he said. “But to people who are interested in the truth, I think this will be a very helpful audit.”

Cox said every year Utah election officials “change and and improve our election system. “We are constantly doing internal audits to find ways to make it better.” He added Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson, whom he praised for doing an “excellent job” directing Utah’s elections, has “already proposed ways to improve security and make our elections better.”

  • “Look, election security is not a stagnant thing,” Cox said. “We’re always learning and improving, and that’s healthy. That’s good. That’s what we should be doing. So anybody that says, ‘We shouldn’t be making any changes; we should leave it the same,’ they shouldn’t be trusted either.”

But Cox said he’s “more worried” about those who are saying, “we should just tear it all down and get rid of it and start over.”

  • “This is the bedrock of the republic,” he said, “and people without evidence who would undermine that bedrock are playing a very dangerous game.”