Ensuring a Fair Vote Count on Utah Redistricting

Samantha (Wiki Ed), from Wikimedia Commons

The 2018 midterm election cycle was one for the record books for a number of reasons.

By passing ballot initiatives to rein in partisan gerrymandering and give voters a voice in setting the boundaries of their electoral districts, citizens in four states sent a clear signal to elected officials on Election Day: we pick our elected officials, not the other way around.

While the victories in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri were all huge wins for democracy, I had to postpone my celebration to go to Utah where Proposition 4 remained too close to call.

CLC consulted on the text of Proposition 4, which amends the Utah Code to establish a redistricting commission with members appointed by various top elected officials in the Utah government. The measure also lays out criteria for both the commission and the legislature to follow when drawing district lines, including protections for communities of color and provisions that require partisan fairness, and provides for transparency in the redistricting process.

After Election Day, Proposition 4 was only ahead by a razor-thin margin—and one within striking distance of the state’s 0.25 percent recount threshold. So myself and a colleague traveled to Utah to observe the processing of ballots and ensure that all votes were counted. We divided our time between the state’s two largest counties, Salt Lake County and Utah County, which together accounted for more than half of the roughly 1.1 million ballots cast in the state this November.

In the two weeks following Election Day, we observed as election workers across Utah processed thousands of ballots each day. Some election workers opened mail-in ballots and tabulated them using optical scanning machines. Others resolved votes that had been marked by hand but could not be read by computers. And yet others reviewed provisional ballot forms and damaged ballots by hand. Each county’s approach varied, depending on their technology and systems for mail-in, provisional, and in-person voting.

It can be difficult to appreciate how complex these processes are until you see them firsthand.

Learning about the vote counting process in each county and watching democracy at work was an important reminder that election administration does not end on Election Day.

As observers, our role was to understand the policies and practices for processing ballots in each county to help ensure they were fair, consistent, comprehensive — and that every eligible vote was counted. On November 20, 2018, the campaign for Proposition 4 declared victory.

In a race where more than a million ballots were cast overall, Proposition 4 won by fewer than 7,000 votes. If the final vote tally had been any closer, we would have been well positioned for any ensuing recount or election contest litigation.

Thankfully, Utah voters have ensured against that possibility. A clear majority of the state’s 2018 electorate voted to ensure that their state legislative and congressional district boundaries reflect the will of the people, not just the politicians.

litigates redistricting, voting rights, and campaign finance cases.