Iron County delays primary certification vote because of ballot postmarking issue

Jul 8, 2024, 7:15 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2024, 5:45 am

CEDAR CITY — Iron County has voted to delay the certification of Utah’s primary election because more than 400 ballots couldn’t be counted because they were postmarked too late.

The county’s clerk, Jon Whittaker, believes the ballots were mailed from Utah on time but postmarked late by the Las Vegas United States Post Office sorting center.

“Because of the maddening 340-mile journey all mail must take to the Vegas sort center, and back, they were likely stamped after midnight, even though they entered the mail stream on the 24,” Whittaker told Iron County Commissioners in a meeting on Monday. “I feel that over 400 voices were silenced for no good reason,”

The issue prompted one county commissioner, Paul Cozzens, to declare he wouldn’t vote to certify the elections.

“I will not vote to certify this election until we have a clear path forward without silencing the voices of those who did their duty and mailed their ballots on time,” Cozzens said in the meeting.

During the meeting, the commissioners, county attorney, and county clerk debated what to do because Utah law is clear that ballots must be postmarked the day before election day – in this case, June 24.

“My fear is, is that if we decertify, then we lose out on the other 9,384 people whose votes did count,” said Commissioner Mike Bleak.

Whittaker and Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson recommended certifying despite the discrepancy.

“There is an opportunity cost of not certifying,” Whittaker said.

Ultimately, they tabled the issue to vote Tuesday at 4 p.m., just one hour before the state deadline to finish canvassing and certifying the election.

Mailed from Utah before postmark deadline?

In Monday’s meeting, Whittaker said he noticed the issue when a batch of more than 400 ballots came in from the post office days after election day, including some late postmarked ballots with a mechanical stamp and some with two stamps — a mechanical stamp with a late postmark date and a hand stamp of an on-time postmark date.

“And I thought, man, I don’t, I don’t believe that all these were mailed late,” he said.

Whittaker sent letters to all the counties with zip codes starting with “847,” which includes Millard, Beaver, Iron, Washington, Paiute, Severe, Garfield and Kane counties. He said these counties have mail processed in Las Vegas.

Whittaker said he didn’t have any way to prove that these ballots went into the mail on time. He even drove to Salt Lake City to borrow a special UV light to scan for postal markings that would signal an on-time drop-off.

“Now, it doesn’t change my suspicion, but what that means is I have no proof, right?” he said in the meeting.

However, some voters showed up to testify and signed notarized affidavits stating that they did indeed turn their ballots in on time.

“I was shocked. I have been voting in Iron County for 33 years, since I was 18. I have never had anything like this happen,” said Camille Topham, who said she took three ballots to Enoch City on June 23.

“(I) drove to the post office on 100 West, put it in there before 2 p.m. on June 23 and left the 24 and did not return until that next Thursday,” said Tiffany Matthews, of Cedar City.

Tiffany Matthews speaking to the commissioners about how she delivered her ballot on time.

Tiffany Matthews speaking to the commissioners about how she delivered her ballot on time. (KSL TV)

Commissioners discussed and are hoping that they have some “wiggle room” in perhaps another section of Utah law that addresses contested elections that would allow them to count ballots if it’s the will of the voter.

While it’s unknown exactly what might happen if the county doesn’t certify the election, the Iron County Attorney believes it’s likely they’ll be compelled to.

“I think that’s the likely outcome is that the (Utah) Attorney General’s Office sues to enforce and compel the board of canvassers to follow the statute and certify the election,” Dotson said.

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Iron County delays primary certification vote because of ballot postmarking issue