We continue the “Recount Ready” series with Sherrie Swensen, Clerk, Salt Lake County, Utah, and member of the EAC’s Standards Board. Below Sherrie reflects on nearly three decades in election administration, sharing her and her office’s experiences with close elections, recounts and election contests.
EAC: What do you wish you had known about recounts and election contests before you experienced one?
Swensen: Candidates and the media are willing to accept that results can vary in a recount if you explain that right up front. When I conducted my first recount many years ago, that advice was given to me by an election official who had done numerous recounts and it has been invaluable. I start by telling candidates and the media that recount results can differ slightly and explaining the reasons that can happen.
EAC: How did you handle the heightened scrutiny of the media and candidate supporters in the post-election period? What about rumors and false information?
Swensen: We make sure that all recount processes are very transparent, documented and well explained. We hold staff meetings prior to the recount to prepare and make team assignments. Then individual team meetings are held so their instructions are clear. We ensure we are all organized and everything is set up in advance for the recount.
EAC: What resources were available to you when interpreting relevant laws and regulations on recounts?
Swensen: Our legal counsel from the County District Attorney’s Office worked with us throughout the entire recount process.
EAC: How did post-election litigation or the threat of litigation affect your work?
Swensen: An election contest is always a possibility in a close election, but we make sure our procedures are clearly documented and followed.
EAC: What advice would you give your fellow election officials about preparing for recounts and election contests?
Swensen: Prepare for a recount by making sure that every ballot cast in the recounted race is identified and accounted for, including both paper and electronic ballots. According to our state statute, all rejected absentee ballots must be also be presented and reviewed again at the public recount. Unopened rejected ballot envelopes are made available so the voter’s affidavit signature can again be compared to the one on the voter’s record (we conceal the voter’s printed name, address and precinct number on the envelope throughout this process).
EAC: What can election officials do to make sure their provisional and mail balloting processes hold up well under the intense spotlight of a close race and potential recounts or election contests?
Swensen: It is important to have detailed, documented procedures that are strictly followed.
EAC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Swensen: I begin by explaining to the group of recount watchers that our goal is to make sure the results are correct, not that they come out the same. The reason we conduct recounts is so we can focus on the close race and confirm the results are accurate.
A big thank you to Sherrie for sharing all the great work she and her staff do! Come back to our blog next week for a final post that will wrap up the Recount Ready series.