They say every vote counts.

But a recent discovery in Cottonwood Heights revealed that every vote in Salt Lake County was counted in 2005 ... except two.

Officials recently discovered a metal ballot box, with the lock still intact, that had been sitting in the vault of the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office for three years. Inside the box were two, unopened absentee ballots.

"I had never heard of anything like this. It was absolutely a mistake. That ballot box should never have been put aside," said County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.

The discovery was made as the new Cottonwood Heights Police Department was setting up its offices. The department got part of the furnishings for its new office from surplus materials from the county. Part of that surplus included six metal ballot boxes. The boxes were used at one time to collect the old punch-card ballots.

When the police department received the boxes, one still had a lock. When the box was opened, two envelopes containing ballots were discovered.

Not knowing exactly what they had, Swensen said her office immediately went to work to find answers to a number of important questions, not the least of which was figuring out if there were any close races that might be affected.

"My initial reaction was concern, finding out how this happened, why it happened. We checked the races, making sure they weren't within one vote," she said.

After many interviews, Swensen said her office determined the ballots were absentee ballots for the 2005 primary election. One was from a West Jordan resident, the other Salt Lake City.

The ballots were filled out in the clerk's office a month earlier than any other votes, she said. What she believes happened was the ballots were put in the metal box which was in turn put in the vault. But when it was time to use the boxes for the rest of the voters, that box was forgotten. And because the county switched to its current form of electronic voting the following year, the box sat in the vault for three years.

"We never used the ballot boxes again," Swensen said.

One of the voters was a temporary worker with the clerk's office at the time, Swensen said. Swensen has contacted that person and let them know what happened. The other person has since moved out of state and Swensen did not know how to reach him.

A check of the races in Salt Lake City and West Jordan for that election showed all the city council and mayoral contests were decided by wide margins that would not be affected by one or two votes, Swensen said.

Swensen said her office never really had problems with the punch-card system. But she guaranteed this would not happen again since the ballot boxes are no longer used.

Still, she said she feels bad about the incident.

"I'm concerned about every single ballot," Swensen said. "I want every vote to count. I'm sorry that it happened. Our process is usually very secure. I'm shocked it happened."


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