News | Vote Denied: ACLU hammers Ogden election and calls for Utah voting reform 

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is calling for standardized training of election poll workers at the state level following an investigation that found widespread problems with Ogden’s mayoral election.

Some would-be voters in Ogden were stripped of their voting rights during the city’s 2007 mayoral election through techniques that had the appearance of an orchestrated campaign, the ACLU reported. The winner of the election, Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey, appears to have tacitly approved of these methods.

Utah is among the minority of states where poll worker training is left to local officials. Many of the Ogden problems were related to poll workers not understanding voting procedure, the ACLU concluded. The ACLU additionally is calling for creation of an independent body to monitor Utah’s elections.

The local ACLU chapter began investigating the November 2007 Ogden mayor’s election after receiving complaints that would-be voters were turned away from the polls or saw their names mysteriously erased from voter-registration lists, that Godfrey campaign signs showed up at polling places and that large numbers of voters had their ballots thrown out for technicalities.

Prior to the close election, Godfrey’s campaign had challenged the right of many potential voters to cast ballots, alleging they were registered in the wrong precinct. The ACLU’s investigation determined nearly all such resident challenges were baseless: The questioned voters did, in fact, live where they were voting. Still, some either weren’t allowed to vote or had their votes thrown out.

It is impossible to know how many people were kept from casting a ballot, the ACLU’s report says, but nearly 300 votes that likely should have been counted weren’t.

The ACLU’s report of its investigation hammers Godfrey, who investigators wrote was unconcerned about the possibility of voter disenfranchisement when interviewed.

“While Godfrey disclaims any personal involvement with these incidents, his lack of public condemnation of these tactics leaves him vulnerable to speculation about his involvement in (or at the least, tolerance of) these actions,” the report says.

Godfrey did not respond to a request for comment, but the mayor told other media outlets he did not credit the ACLU’s analysis.

Among complaints highlighted by the ACLU:

• Would-be voters challenged by the Godfrey campaign were required to present a utility bill and photo ID. Those who presented voter registration cards instead were turned away.

• When such out-of-luck voters were given “provisional” ballots—ballots counted after an election if proper registration can be determined—some were given pencils to fill out the forms despite a requirement that the ballots be filled out in ink.

• Godfrey campaign signs were positioned outside a polling location at Carl H. Taylor Elementary School. Godfrey poll watchers sat at voting tables at Weber State University’s Dee Event Center with letters on their laps displaying Godfrey’s name. On entering at least one polling location, voters were greeted by Godfrey’s relatives by name. That gave “the impression that the mayor and his family were inappropriately involved in the election process itself,” the report says.

The ACLU’s report notes that before voting began there were numerous reports of Godfrey supporters removing campaign signs of the mayor’s opponents and placing intimidating phone calls to businesses that displayed signs supporting Godfrey’s opponents.

Taken individually, such occurrences don’t clearly cross the line of illegal voter intimidation, says Marina Lowe, ACLU staff attorney. Still, many Ogden voters doubt the election was on the up and up. In these suspicious times when many voters distrust the voting process, it is particularly important to ensure local elections have the appearance of being fair and above board, she said.

The ACLU investigation determined Godfrey may have shot himself in the foot with one of his re-election tactics. The mayor’s campaign conducted a voter-registration effort signing up new voters to vote by mail. But the forms, which the ACLU received through a public-records request, show that Godfrey’s campaign altered registration documents so they would be mailed to Godfrey’s campaign instead of the Weber County Clerk. Worried about the alteration, the county clerk consulted with state election officials and threw the registrations out.

That might have accounted for some of the would-be voters who showed up at polls Election Day to find they weren’t registered.

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