Nov 2, 2022 - Politics

Why Utah is the only deep red state that loves mail-in voting

Data: National Council of State Legislatures, Axios research; Cartogram: Shoshana Gordon and Jacque Schrag/Axios
Data: National Council of State Legislatures, Axios research; Cartogram: Shoshana Gordon and Jacque Schrag/Axios

Utahns' trust in the state's mail-in voting sits alone among conservative states.

  • Of all states that former President Trump won in 2020 and 2016, Utah is the only one that allows all elections to be conducted by mail.
  • Recent polling shows Utahns have overwhelming confidence in their election systems.

The big picture: Republicans nationally have been sowing doubt in voting by mail for years, most recently urging voters to hold their ballots until Election Day.

  • The anti vote-by-mail push coincides with larger GOP efforts to undercut overall confidence in elections and amplify unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
  • Conservative voters nationally have accordingly grown more suspicious of election fraud, according to polling released Monday by the Pew Research Center.

Yes, but: Multiple Republican leaders in Utah have overtly rejected attacks on election integrity — and many voters here appear to share their trust.

By the numbers: Nearly 90% of Utahns say they are "confident" to "very confident" that their state and local government will conduct a fair and accurate election next week, per a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released last month.

  • Utah's Republicans and Democrats were almost equal in their trust in the state's elections: 88% and 91%, respectively. That's a stark contrast to national polling that shows Republican mistrust far exceeds Democrats'.
  • Nearly 70% of eligible Utahns voted in the 2020 election, reported. Of the nearly 1.5 million ballots, nearly all were returned via mail ballot or delivered to a dropbox.

The other side: Some Utah Republicans, like state Rep. Phil Lyman (R-Blanding), have questioned the fairness and security of the state's elections.

Flashback: About a decade ago, Utah became an early proponent of mail-in voting when it allowed counties to send out ballots to voters — a move that became popular, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, who oversees the state's elections, told Axios. By 2020, all 29 of Utah's counties had opted-in.

  • "We were not caught off guard in 2020," Henderson said, referring to the multiple states that pivoted to mailing ballots for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The initial need for mail ballots in Utah was to accommodate rural voters who lived too far from in-person polling locations, Henderson noted.

State of play: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has long been a proponent of mail-in ballots and an advocate for increasing voting accessibility.

  • Cox said during a recent news conference that he worked "tirelessly" to improve Utah's elections system when he served as lieutenant governor between 2013-2021.
  • Cox said the state worked with counties and county clerks to implement mail elections slowly while constantly improving security measures.

What they're saying: Cox added that mail voting processes differ state by state and aren't as established as Utah's mail voting system.

  • "If you do it the right way and you put the right security measures in place, you can make it every bit as secure as Election Day voting," he said.

Of note: Cox signed an elections security law this year that would add 24-hour surveillance to unattended ballot drop boxes.

Between the lines: Utah is not immune to the uptick in harassment county clerks across the U.S. have faced.

  • Since 2020, Henderson said two-thirds of the state's county clerks have resigned or chosen not to seek re-election.
  • "It's just a very unpleasant environment, and it's hard to have unfounded accusations being thrown at you all the time," Henderson said.

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