CEDAR CITY – Two days have passed since the election and Iron County still doesn’t know for sure who won the commission races.
As of Friday morning, only 34.5 percent of the votes had been tallied putting Mike Bleak and Alma Adams, both Republican candidates, ahead of their opponents.
For Seat A, Bleak, who has so far garnered 67 percent of the counted votes, was reported in the lead against his Democratic opponent Scott Truman who has only received 32 percent.
In the race for Seat C Adams is leading the race with 64 percent as opposed to his two opponents, Libertarian candidate Wayne Hall, who has secured 21 percent, and Constitution Party candidate Ken Bauer, who is in third place with 13 percent.
Tuesday night election numbers only reflected the electronic votes cast Tuesday and during the previous two weeks. Those totaled approximately 4,100 votes. None of the provisional or the mail-in ballots had been counted at that time.
The votes haven’t changed a great deal since the first ones were released early Wednesday morning but, with 64.5 percent of the votes still left to be counted, Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker said he isn’t yet willing to call the races.
“I don’t know that the numbers are going to change a whole lot after we’ve counted all of them but you never know,” Whittaker said. “I’m not comfortable at this point with less than even half of the votes counted to call this race and announce the winners because you never know.”
Additional results will be posted on Tuesday, November 15; Friday, November 18; and Tuesday, November 22 as indicated by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. The Canvass will be November 22, 2016 at 1:00 p.m.
In previous years, the majority of the votes would have been counted election night and if not then, for sure by now, Whittaker said.
This year however, things got a little crazy election day with three-hour waiting lines at the polls in Cedar City and two-hour lines in Enoch. Parowan’s polling center brought in several more voters later Tuesday evening but continued to move people through the line quickly with only about 10-to-15-minute waits.
Whittaker pointed to several issues as the reason for the long lines Tuesday including it being the first major election for mail-in ballots, limited polling places and the public concerns with election fraud. In addition, Whittaker, who was elected only a year ago, had not overseen a presidential election before and admitted he did not take into account the learning curve.
As of Nov. 4, the county had already received approximately 8,500 mail-in ballots. Additionally, there had been around 3,000 electronic votes cast over the previous two weeks.
Based on those numbers, Whittaker said he expected Tuesday’s turnout to be high and increased the electronic machines available in Cedar City from five to 10 even before the polls opened. Later that day Whittaker added four more and brought in additional volunteers to run a second polling station.
“We had half the electronic machines during the primary that we had Tuesday and we were fine,” Whittaker said. “The number of people who vote varies depending on the election and the type of race because during the off years, when it’s not a presidential race, we won’t have the number of voters we had this time. So for another race the number of machines we had would have been more than enough.”
There were approximately 1,100 new votes cast on the electronic machines Tuesday. However, that number does not include the provisional votes.
The Iron County Commissioners approved using the mail-in ballots in Iron County last March. At the time, they planned to limit the number of polling places since they projected the need would be less with the new system.
“We anticipated there would be more voters using the mail-in ballots so we didn’t think we would need as many polling places,” Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said.
But since this election was only the second time that mail-in ballots were used – June’s primary was the first – there was a lot of confusion, Cedar City resident Blake Cozzens said.
“Many of the voters went to their old polling places. They didn’t know they were supposed to mail in their ballots,” Cozzens said. “They also didn’t know that if they wanted to vote using the electronic machines they needed to take their ballots with them to surrender at the polls. There was just a lot of confusion on how the process worked and what voters were supposed to do. There should have been a lot more information put out by the county clerk prior to the election.”
While Whittaker said he could have done more to educate the public, Cozzens said the responsibility also lies with the voter to become educated about the process.
Moreover, the mail-in ballot sparked fear among many Iron County voters already nervous about election fraud. Many of these voters opted to come to the polls and use the electronic machines, which contributed to the backed-up lines, Whittaker said.
“Many of them didn’t understand they needed to surrender their mail-in ballots and so they didn’t have the ballots with them when they came to vote. So they were given a provisional ballot, which takes time because they have to fill out an application and show their identification. This is a lot of what – why the lines were backed up, because it took time for them to fill out the application.”
Whittaker learned afterwards, however, that not all of those voters without a ballot had to be provisional votes and actually could have been checked in as a traditional vote.
Part of the concerns about election fraud came from voters who believe election officials could easily read and throw away the mail-in ballots, Cozzens said.
“All you have to do is open that ballot,” Cozzens said. “So how do I know that someone who may not like me may not decide to open the envelope to see how I voted and then throw it away because they don’t like the candidates I voted for. You just don’t know. I just think it’s asking for voter fraud.”
According to Whittaker however, election officials are required to tear off the signatures attached to the envelope the mail-in ballot is in before removing the ballot from inside to ensure complete privacy.
“It’s a process. We separate the signature and the envelope then goes in a pile where the ballot is later removed so there is no way for us to know how someone voted because the signature is gone and the envelope does not have any information on it,” Whittaker said.
The former Iron County Republican Chairman said he also doesn’t believe election officials can verify every signature. Cozzens, who owns several rentals, said he received many ballots in the mail at places where tenants had moved out.
Cozzens also said one of his brothers received two ballots – one at his home and one at his father’s address.
“So someone could easily fill out those ballots and sign someone’s signature to them and send them in,” Cozzens said. “And I don’t think they can go through every signature on 10,000 signatures and I don’t think they do. And besides, it’s too difficult to verify signatures and make sure that every one matches up.”
Whittaker said election officials go through and verify every signature. If one doesn’t match up, he said, the voter is contacted and asked to come down to the county offices.
To prevent duplicate votes the county uses a database that screens voters’ names and alerts election officials when a name is entered into the system more than once, Whittaker added.
Brinkerhoff said he is aware of the issues and plans to review what happened and discuss what they can do differently going forward.
Cozzens would like to see the commission go back to the traditional polling booths and make the mail-in ballot optional.
Initially, Brinkerhoff and then-Commissioner Dave Miller also had concerns about potential fraud with the mail-in ballots but after taking more than a month to research it they came back and voted to approve the measure
Brinkerhoff believes the mail-in ballot system is here to stay, he said, as it “has been shown to increase voter turnout.”
In Iron County, of the 23,000 registered voters around 60 to 70 percent voted this election. Brinkerhoff credits the high numbers in part to the mail-in ballots.
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