Some Utah poll workers concerned about safety this year amid national tension over elections

Jun 16, 2022, 6:20 PM | Updated: 7:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Fewer Utahns want to volunteer as poll workers this year, as safety concerns prompted counties to put more security measures in place at the polling places than ever before for the upcoming primary election.

“Every year, we try to use poll workers that have worked with us in the past. And this year, as we’ve put the call out, many have declined,” said Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels.

He said some have expressed concerns “about the level of scrutiny they might face working at local election centers” based on reports from across the country and state.

“Some poll workers would rather not be involved given the level and the tenor about elections,” Daniels added.

He expects more difficulty this year than in the past to recruit poll workers, particularly for the general election in the fall. The county has nearly recruited the needed 100 people to staff the upcoming primary election on June 28.

“Certainly, we’re facing labor market issues as well, so we’ve undertaken some increases in security and training and trying to increase confidence on the part of our poll workers,” Daniels said.

Officials in Utah County don’t anticipate any “significant disruptions” at polling sites, but they are working with local police this year more than ever before “so that they’re aware of our polling locations, so that they’re able to stop by periodically.”

State law passed this year now requires security cameras at ballot drop boxes, an expensive undertaking for counties.

Utah County has spent $20,000 on surveillance equipment to meet the requirement. Many of the drop boxes have also been placed inside public buildings with existing surveillance systems, according to Daniels.

“Which is less convenient for voters, but what it means is that those drop boxes are monitored by the staff working in that city office when the city office is open…. We’re balancing the idea of the mandate to monitor the boxes with the convenience we want to offer by having lots of drop boxes for voters all over the place,” Daniels said.

Police will also be stationed near drop boxes on election night to respond to potential disturbances and to handle traffic.

“Voters should turn their ballots in earlier rather than later so they don’t get stuck in a line at the drop box,” Daniels said.

In Salt Lake County, Deputy Chief Clerk Lannie Chapman noted each unattended drop box will have a video camera on a 15-foot pole above it. The county anticipated spending $250,000 on surveillance equipment.

Officials also placed new drop boxes in Bluffdale and Brighton, as well as additional boxes at the county government center in Salt Lake City, 2001 S. State.

State statute now allows poll watchers to be within 6 feet of ballot worker processes. But both Daniels and Chapman said their offices have processes in place to make sure voter data is kept secure.

Salt Lake County added yellow lines to the carpet where poll workers work, outlining how close they can get to ensure voter privacy.

Law enforcement officers are picking up the ballots in Salt Lake County as in years past and helping in the ballot center “just to make sure that everything is running smoothly,” Chapman said.

“We have some of the greatest poll workers in Salt Lake County. They are experienced, they’re our heroes. They are on the front lines, and we appreciate them so much,” she said.

Like Utah County, Chapman said Salt Lake County has also put measures in place “to make sure everybody is safe.”

Daniels said he wants Utahns to know the state handles elections “really well.” Concerns people have around the country about election security “often aren’t applicable” to Utah, according to Daniels.

“Somebody might see something on the internet about a concern in another state which may be somewhat inaccurate even to what that other state does, and then try to apply that here in Utah. … I think Utahns need to have faith and confidence in our elections. We don’t have significant problems. There’s been no finding of significant problems. I would ask people to scrutinize the information they’re receiving,” he said.

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Some Utah poll workers concerned about safety this year amid national tension over elections