A new poll by NPR/Marist/PBS News Hour this week painted an alarming picture. It found 41% of Americans think the nation is unprepared to make sure Election Day will be safe and secure.
Even more of a worry — two-thirds of Democrats think this is so, while only 15% of Republicans agree. If election safety no longer crosses party lines, the nation may be in trouble no matter what the final tally says.
The state’s voter database — the only part of Utah elections exposed to the internet — gets hundreds of millions, or sometimes billions, of attempted hacks per day. But the state is training county clerks and taking other measures to keep the bad guys away.
“We’re doing everything we can,” he told me Tuesday. “We’re doing things we can’t actually talk about.” These, he said, include things done in connection with the FBI and Homeland Security.
In Utah, Lee reminded me, nearly all of us are now voting by paper. Sometimes, low-tech solutions are the best. If you want to avoid computer viruses or phishing attempts, don’t own a computer or have an email address. If you want to keep outsiders from messing with votes on a mass scale, go back to paper.
No, if Utah has a looming election crisis, it concerns something completely different. With the filing deadline still two months away, the state already has seven candidates signed up to run for governor in the Republican primary, scheduled for June 30. The winner, who will go on to the general election as the Republican candidate (the last Democrat elected to that post won in 1980), might get there with 25% or so of the total votes.
Would that hurt the average Utahn’s trust in the electoral process?
That’s a subject sure to fuel discussions as the Legislature begins its annual session on Monday. It comes at a time when a lot of people are talking about ways to make democracy more democratic.
As members of the Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee heard last summer, the state has five options. It can allow things to continue as they have, it can allow runoff elections if no candidate reaches a certain threshold, it can allow for primaries where the top two finishers go to the general election, regardless of party, it can let party bosses choose winners, or it can do what Rep. Marc Roberts of Salem would like and switch to ranked-choice voting.
Under a ranked-choice scheme, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If a voter’s first choice finished last, that candidate would be eliminated as the voter’s second choice would become effective, and so on until someone receives one vote above 50%.
Roberts told me he isn’t planning to sponsor a bill this year (it’s too late to make any changes to this year’s primaries), but he does plan to make presentations to party caucuses. Utah has a ranked-choice pilot project underway for municipal elections, and Roberts said the first two cities to participate, Vinyard and Payson, had successes last year.
“The clerk’s office managed it well. The results came out quickly, and the candidates said they liked it,” he said.
A looming seven-person gubernatorial primary might give urgency to the discussion. Then again, democracy is a messy business, and ranked-choice voting might be seen as just making it messier.
This year’s race for the White House promises to be not only messy, but nasty, and intelligence sources say to expect more attempts from foreign sources to manipulate the results, using cyber attacks and social media campaigns.
Utah’s gubernatorial primary pales in comparison to that, but it is not without importance. State officials say only 16 primary races (out of 84) were decided by less than 50% of voters between 2016 and 2018. That’s only 19%, and it’s 5% of the total number of races, including those that weren’t preceded by primaries.
That hardly seems like a pressing problem, until it affects the race for governor.