1 of 13
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Alan Rollins looks over Utah County ballots that were sorted, sealed and stored in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

PROVO — Lynne Yocum of Pleasant Grove said it usually takes her 15 minutes to vote in person on Election Day

But Tuesday night, she stood in line for 3 1/2 hours.

"It's never been like this for me to vote, ever," Yocum said at 11:30 p.m. She arrived at the vote center five minutes before the 8 p.m. cut-off time — but didn't expect the hourslong wait.

After Yocum finally cast her ballot, she said she was "drained" yet in good spirits.

"This is a little bit of a shock," Yocum said. "But it's my right to vote and I was going to vote."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Voters wait in line to vote outside the Provo Recreation Center in Provo on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Some reportedly waited three hours to cast a ballot.

Yocum was one of hundreds Utah County voters caught in a tangle of long lines and wait times — an issue that delayed election night data and muddled results of Utah's heated congressional race between Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, which remains too close to call.

Utah County election officials chalked up the waits to an unusual midterm election turnout and a time-consuming ballot with a long list of ballot questions, as well as the county's first major all-by-mail election.

But Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday came down hard on Utah County, blaming Tuesday night's long lines on county leadership.

'Epicenter of dysfunction'

"The voting public deserves better," the governor told the Deseret News in a prepared statement. "Anytime we have a glitch on election night, Utah County seems to be the epicenter of dysfunction."

"Year after year, we see lots of complaints and long lines coming out of Utah County," Herbert continued. "It shows a lack of leadership, a lack of understanding, and a lack of competence on the part of the county. I hope they can finally figure this out, and I hope we don't have this problem two years from now."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah County deputy clerk Andrew Haun scans ballots in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

The governor's harsh words came as the Utah County Clerk's Office continued to process and count thousands more ballots. The office estimated about 89,000 ballots still needed to be processed as of Wednesday night.

While Salt Lake County updated online results again 3 p.m. Wednesday, Utah County wasn't expected to post more results until Friday.

Utah County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson — who failed to win the GOP nomination in the county convention earlier this year and will be leaving office in December — was not available for comment Wednesday because was scheduled to undergo surgery, according to his chief deputy, Scott Hogensen.

Hogensen declined to comment in response to Herbert's comments, but earlier in the day he explained several factors that he said led to the long waits: a "record-breakingly long ballot," abnormally high turnout for a midterm election, and an unexpected number of voters voting in-person rather than by mail.

"For a normal midterm election with a regular ballot, we had plenty of machinery and plenty of (polling) service centers," Hogensen said. "What we had was a bunch of people not really into voting by mail yet, and they just kind of showed up rather than voting by mail."

Hogensen noted elections officials knew long lines were a potential, so the office added 10 more voting machines and beefed up the number of poll workers, but "it wasn't quite enough."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah County election clerk Melynie Meeks organizes mail-in ballots in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

"We're sorry about that, that it took people a long time to vote," Hogensen said. "I'd just remind everybody that we're vote-by-mail now, and we're not (hosting) polling places anymore."

County response

Herbert's comments also came amid a lawsuit between him and the Utah County Commission over the governor's rejection of the county's nominees to represent Utah and Tooele counties on Utah Transit Authority's new board of trustees.

Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, one of the governor's critics in the lawsuit, fired back at Herbert Wednesday.

"Throwing jabs at the county seems inefficient," Lee said, noting that the commission funded "everything the election office asked for and even more than we budgeted." Lee also pointed out the clerk's office is independent of the commission.

"We knew this one was going to be a long ballot," Lee said. "Can we do better? Of course. But you just have to go with what's dealt at the time ... I think (clerks) were trying to maneuver as best as possible given the circumstances of what they were seeing in the way of turnout."

Utah County held its first all vote-by-mail election in 2017, but 2018 marked the county's first ever midterm election held all vote-by-mail. More than 87,000 ballots were counted as of 11:20 p.m. Tuesday night. That's about 33 percent of the roughly 265,000 ballots sent out to active Utah County voters, according to Hogensen.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Voters wait in line at the Covington Village in Orem on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Some reportedly waited for over two hours to vote.

Hogensen reported Wednesday night Utah County had nearly 89,000 ballots still outstanding, including 18,310 provisional ballots. Salt Lake County estimated about 116,000 were still outstanding. Statewide, outstanding ballots were estimated to be about 278,000, according to the state's election website.

Rozan Mitchell, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen's former election director who has been contracting as a consultant with Utah County while she campaigned to replace her boss, said Wednesday Utah County hosted 24 vote centers and deployed all of the voting machines it owned, as well as 10 additional rentals, but clerks were still challenged by how many people turned up at the polls.

"We're quick to point fingers, but we have to remember that voters were all mailed a ballot," Mitchell said. "It takes voter education, and we just have to work on that."

In 2016, Salt Lake County saw similar issues with massive voter turnout during the presidential election. Since then, Swensen blamed Mitchell on the long lines, which Mitchell has denied. Wednesday, Mitchell said it's likely more Utah County voters will embrace vote-by-mail next year and by 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah County ballots are sorted, sealed and stored in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

Justin Lee, the state's elections director, said long lines typically happen in counties during their first major vote-by-mail elections, but "because it has been a pattern, it is something (Utah County) probably should have seen coming."

Lee said state elections officials are "always concerned" about possible voter disenfranchisement because of issues such as long lines, "so we'll certainly continue talking with the counties and make sure they do everything they can to get rid of those kinds of lines."

"(Tuesday night) was certainly way beyond what should be acceptable, and hopefully, they'll do better in the future," Lee said.

'Unacceptable'

In addition to the governor, local Utah County mayors, and even the county's new incoming clerk, were frustrated with Tuesday night's wait times, especially in cities including Provo, Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain.

"I was really disappointed to hear what voters had to go through yesterday," Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said. "It was unacceptable. No one here should have to wait in line for four or five hours to vote. It saddens me to think that some people undoubtedly had to walk away and didn’t get to vote."

Kaufusi said her office had already been in touch with county officials about the issues. "The county clearly needs to prepare for more voters on Election Day, and if there’s something we as a city can do to help, we want to know what that is," she said.

Eagle Mountain Mayor Tom Westmoreland said he was "impressed" with voters' patience despite the night's "frustrating" lines.

"Some people waited in line over four hours," he said, noting the last voter cast their ballot at 11:30 p.m. "It was hard on the voters, hard on our staff, but everybody did their best to make lemonade out of lemons."

36 comments on this story

Amelia Powers, who will be taking Thompson's place as Utah County clerk in January, said she was "very upset" as she watched the lines grow. She said the week before, watching ballot returns, she feared the county wouldn't be prepared on Election Day.

"I warned them, the (state elections) office warned them, the cities warned them, and by 7:30 a.m. I was already getting text messages from people saying lines were too long," Powers said. "It's very disappointing."

Hogensen said "it's easy to do Monday night quarterbacking from the armchair, especially when you don't know what's going on with the whole picture," but he added Powers will get to make changes when she takes office in January.

Contributing: Paul Nelson