problems string of bad luck, but not county clerk’s fault
By Suzanne Dean
Since the general election ballots went out in Sanpete County with the signature line and affidavit missing, there has been all kinds of chatter on Facebook and elsewhere blaming Sanpete County Clerk Sandy Neill.
One person who posted on the Messenger’s Facebook page said the county (assumedly county government) needed to be “restructured.” And, the person said, the Messenger, too, needed to be restructured, assumedly because our newspaper failed to make a big enough stink about the error.
But let’s put this situation in perspective. There are at least two elections every year in Sanpete County, a primary and a final election. General elections are held in even-numbered years and municipal elections in the odd-numbered years. For 2020, throw in a presidential primary that was administered by the county.
That’s 20 elections. All but four have gone off without a hitch. The four with problems have occurred since 2018, when, because of circumstances beyond the county’s control, it could no longer print ballots at K&H Election Services in Everett, Washington, the 88-year-old company that had done a flawless job for the county for decades.
The problems in all four of the recent elections have occurred because of poor performance by the three different companies that followed K&H. After the first company messed up, Neill tried the second, and after the second one did the job wrong, Neill tried a third. To put it simply, Neill has had a streak of bad luck.
A vote has to be signed to be legal. Failure to provide a place for a voter to sign is a serious error. But the error was made not by Sandy Neill, but by the California company she hired to print Sanpete County ballots and envelopes. She chose the company based on a recommendation from another county clerk in the state who had had a good experience.
As Steve Clark, Sanpete County Republican chairman told me, “There’s nothing nefarious here.”
The ballot printing company, Integrated Voting Systems (IVS) of Dinurba, California (outside Fresno), printed and shipped the ballots and envelopes for the June primary (the election in which Spencer Cox defeated Jon Huntsman for the Republican nomination for governor). All aspects of that job were done correctly.
Prior to printing the ballots for the upcoming general election, IVS emailed a proof of the ballot envelope to Neill. The proof did contain the affidavit and signature line on the inside of the envelope flap. Neill approved the proof. And she emphasized to IVS personnel that the general election ballot envelope needed to be identical to the envelope they printed for the primary election.
I’ve worked with printers for 50 years. IVS made a mistake that is easy to make in printing. The ballot envelope was a two-sided printing job. Somebody forgot to print the second side. That was the side that was supposed to contain the signature line. The company trimmed, folded and pasted the envelope with the second side blank. Then IVS mailed the ballots out to voters.
A decent printing company would have had a quality-control person spot check the envelopes and ballots before mailing. Such a staff member almost certainly would have figured out the second side of the job wasn’t printed. At that point, all Sanpete County ballot envelopes should have gone in the trash. The county should have been informed, and the job should have been reprinted, post haste.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, which looked into IVS’s record, in 2019, the company made the identical mistake in a municipal election for a fairly small town in Sevier County.
The Tribune quoted Sevier County Clerk Steven Wall as saying, “They didn’t print the back of the envelope, on the back of that flap. It was basically the same thing that happened to Sanpete, only it was a lot smaller group…”
As for the person calling for the county and the Messenger to be “restructured,” I’m sure he or she has no idea what is involved in running an election or publishing a newspaper. If that person was put in charge of either operation, I’m confident it would fall apart within weeks.
I do have another thought. The state of Utah has helped hundreds of businesses financially over the years. I wonder if the state, vested as it is in democracy, should consider helping get a Utah-based ballot printing company up and rolling.
I’d like to think that such a company, with knowledge of the state, could get ballots right. Clerks could go in person to the plant, inspect ballots before they went out, and demand reprints if anything was wrong.
And there wouldn’t be problems with interstate shipping, as Sanpete has had with ballots three different times since 2018. Clerks or their staffs could pick up ballots for their counties at the plant, take them to their courthouses, and mail them themselves. In fact, I think Sanpete County would be a nice, central location for such a company.
Finally, I want to say that I didn’t vote for Neill the first time she ran for county clerk. But over the past 13 years, our newspaper has had a good relationship with her. In interviewing her dozens of times, I have found she is committed to helping every eligible resident register and vote. She and her staff are clearly committed to counting ballots accurately and according to law. I trust her integrity.