Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson says ‘we’ve lost our republic’ if faith in elections erodes

Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson said that as a conservative who believes in limited government, she doesn’t think the state should make unnecessary rules, especially when it comes to voting.

She made the comment Thursday night at a Spanish Fork town hall, answering a question from the public about why requiring in-person voting with photo ID is “similar to Jim Crow laws.”

Henderson said the comparison is not accurate on its face. But she said she was concerned about making it harder to exercise the constitutional right to vote, for example by requiring people to vote only in person, on paper and with a pen or pencil.

“Arbitrarily restricting access to the ballot is a violation of the people’s constitutional right,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s the role of government to arbitrarily make it difficult for people.”

“It worked for a hundred years,” a woman said in the audience.

“We used to ride horses everywhere, but now we drive cars,” Henderson said. “It’s very fair to worry. But it’s also fair, I think, to look at what’s really going on and look for ways to improve.

Part of Henderson’s responsibility as lieutenant governor is to oversee the state’s electoral system, and she said she takes her duty to protect her safety and promote voter confidence seriously. That’s one of the reasons she decided to hold the Thursday night meeting in the first place, she said.

The future of democracy is at stake, she continued.

“If we cannot count on being able to go to the polls and express our dissatisfaction or our satisfaction with our vote, then we have lost our republic,” she said. “And that, to me, is incredibly scary.”

Governor Spencer Cox and Henderson both defended Utah’s electoral system against attempts to question it.

In his state of the state address last month, Cox expressed concern that “unsubstantiated allegations and outright lies” about the election are undermining the country’s system of governance.

Here are some of the questions Henderson asked and the answers she and state Chief Electoral Officer Ryan Cowley gave:

Are postal ballots reliable or can they open the door to fraud?

The short answer, Henderson said, is that they’re safe and secure.

But she explained the safeguards the state has in place to prevent people from abusing the mail system.

First, fraudulent registration to vote and multiple voting are crimes, she said. In addition, each mailing envelope has a unique barcode that identifies the voter whose ballot is inside. Election officials scan envelope codes when ballots arrive to ensure the person cannot vote more than once, she said.

A 2019 audit carried out by the legislatorshe noted, concluded that the state’s election precautions prevented people from voting multiple times and were robust enough to prevent fraud.

Utah also compares signatures on ballot envelopes with what the state has on file for the voter to verify the person’s identity, she said.

Why is a forensic audit not allowed in Utah?

“First of all, the term forensic audit in elections is something quite new,” Henderson replied. “I don’t know if anyone had heard of it in conjunction with an election before the 2020 election.”

For that reason, it’s not entirely clear what people mean when they ask for this type of review, she said.

However, Utah audits its elections, she said.

Cowley later explained that following an election, officials check a random sample of ballots to make sure the machines were counting them correctly.

Once vote totals are officially certified, federal law requires officials to seal election results for 22 months and then destroy them without opening them.

“I have to follow the law, and the law says these returns are sealed unless ordered by the court,” she said.

What voting software does Utah use? Does it have the ability to be connected to the internet?

Cowley said one county in Utah uses Unisyn voting solutions and Salt Lake County uses Dominion voting systems. The rest of Utah’s counties rely on Election Systems & Software, he said.

None of these systems can connect to the internet, Cowley continued.

“It’s an essential part of security when you’re talking about elections,” he said. “Not only could someone not manipulate things electronically, but we also prevent it physically.”

All Utah election hardware is independently tested to ensure software security, he said.

How do you fight misinformation when so many voters believe in false facts?

Henderson said the best way to fight lies is to study the correct information.

For example, Utahns can visit their county clerk’s office and ask questions about the election processes in place for their area, she said.

“You may not like the process. You may not like mail-in voting, and that’s okay,” she said. “But we want to make sure people understand that this process is secure and that votes are counted accurately.”

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