SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is firing back at Republicans over recent concerns they raised about how many provisional and absentee ballots were disqualified and their access to those ballots.
The issues surround the outcome of the tight 4th Congressional District race, which Jim Matheson won by just 768 votes over GOP challenger Mia Love. Republicans, as articulated by their state leadership, have been trying to ensure that every vote cast for Love has been counted.
Sherrie Swensen said Thursday she is “dismayed” and “upset” by claims that the GOP wasn’t allowed to view the ballots as they said they had been allowed to do in other counties. She said no concerns were expressed by the party on or around Election Day about how the process was conducted, despite several Republican poll watchers being present.
“I really felt that it was disingenuous for that to be said after the fact," Swensen said.
A GOP leader said Thursday that no one is saying the ballots weren't handled properly, but the party still has questions.
Last Friday, Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said the party wanted to review the disqualified ballots and ask questions about why they were discarded.
“In the other three counties we were allowed to lay eyes,” Wright said. “We never touched anything according to their rules. We were able to ask questions, we were able to look at the ballots and they were able to give us some explanations. We still have questions in those other counties. In Salt Lake County, we were told we couldn’t look at those ballots and we would need a court order to do that.”
Swensen said the only request she was aware of was a GOP request to obtain photographic copies of the envelopes of provisional ballots. She said Republicans were told they would have to make a formal open records request and some information like social security numbers would have to be redacted for security concerns.
Republicans had access to the process and her staff regularly answered their questions, Swensen said.
“They had watchers here during the entire process of where we were verifying provisional ballots, scanning the ballots,” Swensen said. “We answered questions again and again. I have a sign-in sheet where watchers signed in 16 times.
“I felt like we answered questions and it wasn’t until after I certified to the Board of Canvassers that I heard from reporters that they still had questions, and so I was really taken back by that.”
Thursday, Utah GOP Executive Director Ivan DuBois said Swensen’s staff provided answers along the way, but it didn’t mean those were the “totality” of Republicans’ questions.
“I’m not implying that they’ve done anything wrong,” DuBois said. “Through this process we have gone deeper into what the clerks do and we’ve learned a lot.”
DuBois declined to specify exactly what questions remained for GOP brass to ask Swensen, or what the party had learned about what clerks do.
“We want to understand the process a little better,” DuBois said. “I think it’s appropriate and it’s reasonable to ask questions directly of the clerk."
Swensen said the county followed state guidelines on which ballots to disqualify. She said in each case of a discarded ballot, efforts were made “at least twice” to search for further information about the voter to determine whether the ballot could possibly be counted.
Swensen and Wright were expected to meet Friday.
"I just want the public to know that we're very careful with their ballots," Swensen said. "We worked so hard and they aren't thrown out. They are in archived boxes and the uncounted ballots and the reasons they weren't counted are all described and boxed up and hopefully we can answer their questions."