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Utah legislators dispute state’s 2020 election void of fraud, sink effort praising vote

SHARE Utah legislators dispute state’s 2020 election void of fraud, sink effort praising vote

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Given the historic hurdle COVID-19 placed in front of 2020 voting officials, some legislators wanted to commemorate the election as a success in Utah, but some conservative lawmakers would only go so far in applying the word “success” to the results.

“There’s a significant difference of opinion in my district about whether mail-in balloting is correct. There’s a significant difference of opinion about how fraud was handled across the country. There’s a significant different opinion about a lot of things,” said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored HCR11 and the resolution cleared the House Government Operations Committee last week with four prominent points that Briscoe said would “memorialize” the success of the 2020 election.

Bu when the measure came to the House floor Tuesday, two statements rose to the top as the most controversial: “There were no accounts or charges of significant election fraud” and the “security of the vote-by-mail process.”

“I think that’s not entirely a settled matter in my district,” Thurston said.

The other two statements commemorated the voter turnout and thanked the county clerks for their service in the election process.

No one on Tuesday challenged the fact Utah’s county clerks deserved thanks. And legislators also agreed that the turnout of voters — 90% — was significant.

But Thurston didn’t agree on anything else. He introduced an amendment to “tighten down the focus,” removing what he called “divisive themes.”

“So what this does is it takes anything out that might be divisive. That might give us a political spin as to one way of doing things is right. And another way of doing things is wrong,” Thurston said.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, supported Thurston’s changes, calling Briscoe’s acclamations for the 2020 election “presumptive.”

The amendments also changed the name of the resolution from “Recognizing the success of the 2020 election” to “Recognizing Utah’s clerks and election workers for their performance related to Utah’s 2020 election.”

The altered resolution passed the House, 43-28.

Briscoe argued that less than 1% of the mail-in ballots in Utah were rejected due to signature issues and other “typical issues.” He fought against Thurston’s exclusion of vote-by mail being commemorated, calling it “integral” to the election’s success and a reason for honoring the county clerks in protecting volunteers and the public from COVID-19.

He later told the Deseret News that Thurston’s and Lyman’s concerns about mail-in voting were “superfluous.”

“They failed to distinguish between voting in Utah and voting that happened outside of Utah,” Briscoe said.

“Every person sitting on that floor, that was an elected official, was elected by vote-by-mail ballot. If their constituents are so concerned about vote by mail, and they’re responding to their constituents, than in my opinion, they should bring language making it more difficult to vote by mail. I don’t think they’ll do that because they think their constituents like voting by mail.”

Lauren Simpson, policy director for Alliance for a Better Utah, reacted to the rewritten resolution.

“After witnessing numerous unfounded claims about the 2020 election over recent months, including legal challenges and an attack on the U.S. Capitol, it’s disappointing that more than half of Utah’s state representatives would choose to further undermine public confidence in the past election,” she said in a statement. “Lawmakers have a responsibility to uphold and protect the civic ecosystem they participate in. Resolutions are designed to send a message, and unfortunately, today lawmakers sent a message allowing baseless fears about voting by mail and election fraud to continue to fester. Utahns enjoy voting by mail, and our most recent election was no exception. That election was free, fair and secure, to the great credit of Utah’s county clerks and election officials.”