Understanding the election process: The steps of certifying results in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Most of Utah’s local races have unofficially been called but a few remain still too tight to declare a winner. But, when are elections/votes actually certified in Utah? With the talk of voter fraud and uncounted votes across the nation, many Utahns are taking an increased interest in what exactly happens to their ballot come election night and when they can expect election results to become official.

“There is actually a Board of Canvassers. We being the election administration, in each county, we present the results to the Board of Canvassers, it is typically made up of three to five people, and then they accept those results, and then that is what certifies the election. Then that is what is sent to the Lieutenant Governor’s office (to become the state’s official results),” says Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner.

According to electionresults.utah.gov, election results displayed on their website and that media outlets generally use are not actually final results but are simply posted as a service to the public come Election Day. Final election results will not be certified by each county until Nov. 17, two weeks after Election Day. From that point, the State Board of Canvassers then must submit certified results by Nov. 23.

“The state sets that (the date). It is a law, it is 14 days after the election in Utah,” says Gardner. She also notes that election certification dates vary from state to state.

So what about a tight race that is too close to call for any organization to make a determination on? Gardner says to simply wait until the two weeks after Utah’s elections and find out who the winner is straight from state officials. However, Gardner says organizations such as the Associated Press are usually correct in calling winners. Gardner says that an unofficial winner was announced in Utah in 2014 but certified state results were released two weeks after the election and reversed what was previously announced.

“It happened in a House race in 2014 in Salt Lake County. There was a Legislature candidate by the name of Fred Cox (R) and the Democratic candidate had actually been called the winner of that race. Because of ballots that came in the mail and provisional ballots, that race swapped and Fred Cox actually ended up serving for a term in the House of Representatives for the State of Utah,” Gardner recalls.

As Utah County Clerk, Gardner makes the point that elections are local. Even when Americans are voting for the President, all ballots go through an individual’s county (or city in some states).

“The way it works in the U.S. is that all elections are locally run, whether you are voting for the President of the United States, governor of your state, or a mayor, or an amendment, everything on your ballot is run by your local election official,” Gardner explains. “In Utah, your local election official is your County Clerk. In some states it’s your county recorder and in some states it is an Election Board. In some states it is even done at the city level and then the county only helps if it is small townships.”

Gardner says that because elections are local, people will see their friends elsewhere and see how their elections are run and just assume that that is how they are run where they live as well. Gardner makes the point that that isn’t always true, since elections are run on a county level nationwide every county will do things differently to tabulate votes, even within the state.

So what can people do to become more informed on what happens to their ballot in their county come Election Day? Gardner says to simply reach out to your local county election officials.

“I feel like the more people know (about the election process), the more confidence they can have in the process,” she says. “In general, I would say reach out to your local county clerk office. Reach out to your local elections office. Learn from your local office how things are run for you.”

While every county in Utah runs elections differently, she says for people living in Utah County, they can head to the county’s social media pages to check out videos that explain how ballots are tabulated in the two weeks after Election Day in Utah.

Votes become certified in Utah on Nov. 17th. Utahns can then check the state’s official election results page for official winners.

RELATED: Get latest results of the 2020 General Election here

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