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Activist sues Summit County, state over 'secretive' election practices

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2007 12:14 p.m. MDT

An elections activist is suing both Summit County and the state over voting laws she thinks are "poorly written, impractical and not harmonious" with election practices.

Park City resident Kathy Dopp filed the 17-page complaint in federal court Sept. 20, naming Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and Summit County Clerk Kent Jones as defendants in her suit.

"Utah's current election system is so secretive that it is akin to allowing a small, close-knit group of people to take ballots to a back room and secretly count them," said Dopp, executive director of US Count Votes, a Utah nonprofit organization.

Dopp ran for Summit County clerk in the 2006 election but lost to Jones.

Dopp requested voter registration records from the county through Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) throughout 2006. She was denied various times and eventually appealed to the State Records Committee. The committee sided with the county in February.

So Dopp and her attorney, Brian Barnard, are suing under the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law enacted in 1993. Barnard said the act allows the public to go through a poll book and see who voted in the elections.

"What Summit County has said is, nope, the poll books are considered to be election results and, under Utah law, those are not available to the public nor the voters," he said. "There's a conflict there between the federal National Voter Registration Act and Summit County's interpretation of the Utah statute."

Under state law, the public cannot access voting records like poll books, voter registration and absentee ballots.

The suit goes on to chastise state law that requires registration material to be sealed and destroyed after 22 months, when the National Voter Registration Act requires records be preserved for 24 months.

Dopp, a degree-certified mathematician, said she wants to look at voting patterns, double-check the accuracy of the electoral process and keep a check on electronic voting machines, which she does not trust.

"I understand that now we're using touch-screen voting machines that essentially have invisible electronic ballots, these ballots are being secretly counted by trade-secret software, and there's no public access to election records," she said. "Why should our voting count numbers be a secret?"

Summit County Attorney Dave Thomas said election records are sealed to ensure election returns are not tampered with and to "make sure the integrity of the process is kept intact."

Although Dopp is suing on the basis of federal law, Thomas says in her GRAMA, Dopp requested election results from local races as well.

Simply put, Thomas said, federal law governs federal elections. State and local laws govern state and local elections. The county is just following state law. Without a court order, the county will not unseal those records, he said.

"Our position has been the position we've always had. If the judge tells us we have to release the information, then we'll release the information. There's a provision in state statute that says if the county clerk interferes with the integrity of the election, it's a crime," Thomas said.

"Essentially, Miss Dopp wants these election returns to prove these election voting machines are flawed. That's been her purpose, to prove that they are flawed and the state should have chosen a different machine."

The state uses the Diebold General Election Management Server (GEMS).

Joe Demma, Herbert's Chief of Staff, said he would not comment on an ongoing legal matter.

Both the county and state have 20 days from the filing date to respond to the suit.


E-MAIL: astowell@desnews.com

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