POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Washington County clerk has discretion in not releasing list of ‘uncured’ ballots, judge rules

Jul 8, 2024, 10:36 AM | Updated: 10:45 am

Colby Jenkins and Rep. Celeste Maloy debate in Salt Lake City on June 10. A judge on Monday rejecte...

Colby Jenkins and Rep. Celeste Maloy debate in Salt Lake City on June 10. A judge on Monday rejected a request from Jenkins' campaign to compel the Washington County clerk to turn over a list of ballots with issues to be resolved. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News )

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News )

ST. GEORGE — A Utah judge has ruled against the congressional campaign of Colby Jenkins after the candidate sought to obtain a list of Washington County voters whose ballots are “uncured” ahead of the county’s canvass Monday.

Jenkins, a Republican who is challenging Rep. Celeste Maloy in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District primary, sued Washington County Clerk/Auditor Ryan Sullivan on Friday, asking the courts to quickly compel Sullivan to turn over a list of voters whose ballots need to be cured, so that the campaign could contact voters and urge them to fix the issues with their ballots.

Many of the uncured ballots have mismatched signatures, meaning county election officials have been unable to count them.

Fifth District Judge Jay Winward ultimately rejected Jenkins’ request, saying that Utah election law gives county clerks discretion when it comes to releasing lists of uncured ballots.

Colby Jenkins files lawsuit against Washington County as congressional primary remains tight

“If Mr. Sullivan decides to do this,” Winward said of optionally handing over the list of uncured ballots, “he has to comply with the law.”

John Mertens, an attorney for the Jenkins campaign, argued that not releasing the list could do irreparable harm to Jenkins’ election prospects, and would hurt voters who are unable to have their ballots cured.

He also argued that Sullivan’s decision not to turn over the list is in contrast to a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that voters from different counties should be treated equally, citing the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000. The Salt Lake County clerk voluntarily provided the campaign with its list of voters, and Mertens argued that by not doing so, Sullivan was treating Washington County voters differently than Salt Lake County voters.

But Winward said when weighing the harms in the case, voters “have every right” to ask elected officials not to disclose their personal information to campaigns.

Sullivan testified to Winward that his staff followed the law relating to uncured ballots by leaving them unopened, separating them from other ballots and contacting the voters by mail, or email and phone, if applicable, to inform them of the issue and the steps required to fix it.

If the county clerk decides not to disclose the cure list to a campaign, “they’re treating voters the same as if an officer decided to disclose because they’re simply getting a way to notify” voters of the issues, the judge said. “It’s within his purview as the executive branch officer to say, ‘I’m not disclosing names of my voters in my county. I’m going to contact them as required by the statute.'”

Winward said Jenkins isn’t helpless when it comes to getting the outstanding ballots cured before the canvass.

“Candidate Jenkins just had a huge forum,” Winward said, referencing the media attention of the lawsuit and hearing. “I’m grateful that he brought this to the court. He has a huge forum and a bank of reporters to say, ‘Everybody in Washington County, go to the link, track your vote. If it wasn’t counted, contact the clerk immediately.’ And I hope every voter in this county — whether it’s 500 or 5,000 — checks their vote … make sure it was counted.”

Jenkins currently trails Maloy by 314 votes, though he leads the incumbent with nearly 60% of the vote in Washington County. The threshold for a recount is estimated to be a margin of about 267 votes, and Jenkins hopes to make up that ground with the more than 400 uncured ballots out of Washington County.

This story will be updated.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Washington County canvass is Monday. The canvass is Tuesday at 4 p.m., but voters need to cure their ballots by Monday.

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Washington County clerk has discretion in not releasing list of ‘uncured’ ballots, judge rules