A video suggesting that there’s been “voter fraud” in Utah has been circulating online, but all it actually shows is a misunderstanding of a poll worker’s mistake on the first day of early, in-person voting. The mistake was corrected and the system worked, as intended.
A video titled “VOTER FRAUD? YOU TELL ME” began circulating on social media a week before Election Day, causing confusion and concern among the hundreds of thousands of Instagram users who saw the original video.
Despite the suggestion in the title, the video doesn’t show voter fraud.
Here’s what it does show:
A Utah voter named Taylor Zundel seated in a car, suggesting that her husband may have been a victim of voter fraud.
“I just think this is important to know and I think people should know this is happening and I just think it’s important,” she says in the recording.
Zundel explains her experience and suspicions this way:
“My husband gets his little voter card, he goes to the machine to vote and it says that he’s already voted, which, he hasn’t… he goes to the desk back where we checked in… they call somewhere in Salt Lake and clear his vote… He’s able to vote. Great. But a few things cross my mind: First of all, who did he, apparently, vote for? I don’t know. And they couldn’t tell him. They couldn’t tell who he voted for. Fine. Who did he vote for, though? Second of all, what if he hadn’t voted this year? …Like, again, who on record did he [vote for]? …And then third, is it really that easy to just go and clear a vote? Because, if it is, that’s a little scary. But, was it really cleared, I guess is what I’m trying to say, also. Was it really cleared or was it just, like, another vote?”
“It just, it doesn’t feel right,” she says.
But what really happened isn’t mysterious.
Salt Lake County has unrestricted in-person voting locations, so voters don’t have to vote within their precincts, Sherrie Swensen, the Salt Lake County clerk who is in charge of elections, told us in a phone interview. They can vote at any location in the county.
When voters show up, poll workers check them in and program a card for each voter based on their address. That card is inserted into the voting machine and the machine displays the appropriate ballot for that voter’s precinct on the touchscreen. The county has posted a video showing the process.
Zundel and her husband, Colten Page, went to an early voting location in Draper City on the first day it was open, Oct. 26, Swensen said.
The poll worker who checked in Page made a mistake and missed a step on the system to set up the card, neglecting to select “create ballot style,” Swensen said. By missing that step, the ballot for Page’s precinct wasn’t created and, instead, showed a blank ballot on the touchscreen.
“It was the first day of early voting,” Swensen said. “They were a little nervous, and she missed one step.”
The generic error message on the machine says: “This voter access card is already voted. Please remove it from the machine,” Swensen told us, explaining, “that’s built in as the generic message, built into the machine.”
As Zundel says in the video, Page was able to go back to the poll worker and get the problem fixed so that he could vote. But, again, there was nothing nefarious in how that was done, either.
The poll worker called the Election Help Desk so the card could be cleared and recreated. It could then display the correct ballot for Page, Swensen said.
So, the poll worker didn’t “clear a vote,” as Zundel suggested. Rather, she cleared the card. There was no vote to clear, since Page hadn’t been shown a ballot, and there would be no way to “clear a vote” from the system once it has been cast, Swensen said.
“I can understand her concern,” Swensen said, but the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office explained all this to Zundel in a public message on Instagram and offered to walk her through the process in person. “She wasn’t interested,” Swensen said.
Zundel didn’t respond to our request for comment sent to her Facebook page, where she also shared the video.
Despite the county clerk’s public explanation, the video spread even further when it was featured on Herman Cain’s website, which became The Cain Gang after his death from COVID-19 in July. The story on that website didn’t include any mention of the clerk’s explanation (which was posted the day before), and instead carried this misleading headline: “Instagram Testimony: People Are Showing Up to Vote and Being Told They Already Voted.” It was billed as “commentary.”
Statewide, Utah had not received many complaints about potential voter fraud, Justin Lee, the director of elections, told us in a phone interview.
Of the complaints that have been made, Lee said that, like this one, they “have been very easy to explain.”
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Zundel, Taylor (@taylorzundel). “VOTER FRAUD? YOU TELL ME.” Instagram. 27 Oct 2020.
Swensen, Sherrie. Clerk, Salt Lake County, Utah. Interview with FactCheck.org. 2 Nov 2020.
Salt Lake County Election Division. “Voting on Election Day.” YouTube. 7 Nov 2018.
Salt Lake County Election Division (@slcoelections). Public response. Instagram. 28 Oct. 2020.
Calabrese, Dan. “Instagram Testimony: People Are Showing Up to Vote and Being Told They Already Voted.” The Cain Gang. 29 Oct 2020.
Lee, Justin. Director of elections, Utah. Interview with FactCheck.org. 2 Nov 2020.