Traditional wisdom, made famous by former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, is that all politics is local. Today, that seems as quaint as dial-up internet or a transistor radio. All politics is definitely national.
Got a state school board choice to make on your ballot? For many, the first question might be who the candidates support for president. Local shmocal.
Voting has been underway for awhile in some other states, which has led many angry people here to call county and state offices here to demand a ballot. In Utah, ballots always go out three weeks before Election Day. But that’s a local story.
The truth is, we’ve done this in Utah for most of a decade now. It has become routine. Few people have complained. Close elections have been decided. Calm down.
Except that now, as Utahns get ready to vote, this is what they’re hearing nationally:
An election worker in Pennsylvania threw away nine military ballots,
In New Jersey, a 26-year-old man faces federal charges after allegedly dumping 1,875 pieces of mail, including 99 general election ballots, in a dumpster.
In California, at least 50 boxes labeled as ballot drop boxes have appeared around Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange counties. They aren’t official drop boxes.
There are explanations for all of these except the last one. The state Republican Party has admitted to placing drop boxes, claiming there is no law against harvesting ballots. The secretary of state has sent a cease and desist order and is threatening charges.
In the Pennsylvania case, officials say the nine ballots were discarded by mistake, not as intentional fraud. Jonathan Marks, the Pennsylvania deputy secretary for elections, told ABC News that in some cases, military and overseas ballots came in envelopes that weren’t clearly marked.
In New Jersey, the dumped mail also contained 627 first class mail items, 873 pieces of standard class, two pieces of certified mail and 276 campaign flyers involving local races. Authorities say the dump did not appear to be politically motivated.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to look too far to find examples of mail carriers who, feeling overwhelmed or for other reasons, dump mail. In Utah several years ago, a mail carrier was prosecuted for dumping mail over a four-month period.
But this hardly seems to matter.
As the official Election Day approaches, minor problems are bound to be dressed up as something scary, and all the talk of fraud may spur some people to act out.
Maybe it’s appropriate that Election Day falls so close to Halloween.
It doesn’t help that President Trump is railing against alleged mail-in fraud and refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, or that former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is urging Joe Biden not to concede under any circumstances.
That’s why it’s helpful to remember that mail-in voting is old-hat in Utah.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen walked me through the precautions Tuesday. Anyone who thinks he or she can counterfeit a ballot in Utah would have to have the right weight of paper, the timing marks in the right places and then, hardest of all, the unique barcode that matches that ballot to a specific voter. They also would need a signature that matches that of the voter they are trying to impersonate.
Computers check the signatures against those given at the time the voter registered. Ballots the computers can’t verify are checked personally by a staff of people trained to examine them. If something is questionable, they will contact the voter for verification.
If you’re worried about the mail, Swensen said she checked with postal officials. Salt Lake County sent out about 595,000 ballots this week. That’s just a fraction of what the Postal Service handles during the Christmas season.
If you’re worried about counterfeit dropoff boxes, the county provides a list of locations with your ballot. It also provides photos of those locations on the website got-vote.org.
Justin Lee, the state’s director of elections, told me the state has a complete backup of its voter database.
“We’ve been working with our IT professionals for years to guard against this,” Lee said.
This ought to make you confident as you vote in Utah, no matter what strange noises, creaks and groans you may hear from the rest of the nation in a year that has made scary things normal.