Donald Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on the result of the 2020 presidential election — which appears to not be going his way — is causing headaches and grief in Utah where voters who have overwhelmingly voted by mail are now in a panic over whether their votes will be counted.
According to a report from Washington Post, Weber County — a rock-ribbed Republican district of 260,000 — began using mail-in voting in 2013 with no complaints. In fact, according to the report, ‘more than 99 percent of ballots cast in the  primary were placed in the mail or deposited in a dropbox.”
But that was before the president started his war on mail-in voting which has now created nothing but “chaos and confusion” for the state’s election officials who are being swamped with phone calls and conspiracy theories from panicked voters.
As the Post reports, “But something has changed in Weber County, which now requires three full-time phone operators to field calls from residents,” with election official Ricky Hatch saying locals are “suddenly worried about voting by mail. Voters refer to ballots being thrown in a ditch, a river and dumpsters,” as well as questions about dogs receiving ballots and dead people voting.
“Similar questions are flooding county offices nationwide, including many where residents have routinely voted by mail, said Hatch, who also chairs the election committee for the National Association of Counties. In many cases, the worries can be traced to baseless or alarmist statements by President Trump and posts on his Twitter feed. Others have been fed by headlines stripped of context and misleading reporting in the mainstream media, according to election administrators, voting rights advocates and experts in online communication,” the report states. “The confusion and chaos follow a months-long campaign by Trump and his allies to sow doubt about voting by mail, a method of casting ballots that has been embraced in Democratic- and Republican-leaning states and has grown more popular this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to Justin Lee, Utah’s director of elections, the sudden frenzy over mail-in voting after years without problems can be laid at the feet of Donald Trump and Fox News hosts who have been pushing conspiracy theories in an effort to delegitimize the election.
“Obviously, the effort to question and undermine vote by mail has worked very well,” he explained with the Post adding that Lee faults, “the ‘national discussion’ for what he and others described as an unprecedented level of confusion threatening to derail a well-functioning system in a Republican-controlled state.”
Adding to Utah’s problems was a small story about a simple mail-in voting problem that went national with the help of conservative pundits.
“The ballot printing error, caused by a vendor, illustrated the benefits of a by-mail system, not its drawbacks, said Lee, the state elections director. Faulty ballots distributed in person on Election Day may have been more difficult to remedy, he said,” the Post reported. “But the story quickly reverberated, amplified by conservative outlets and by pundits questioning the merits of voting by mail. The far-right website Breitbart cited the story from local Fox 13 — as well as a tweet from a reporter at KSL, an NBC affiliate — in an Oct. 14 story. The Breitbart piece positioned the glitch in Utah as part of an alarming pattern of election security issues affecting numerous states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
According to Yochai Benkler of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, “With respect to mail-in voter fraud, the driver of the disinformation campaign has been Trump, as president, supported by his campaign and Republican elites.”
Worst still for Utah election officials is a sudden interest by locals in showing up and voting on election day in communities where mail-in voting has become the norm.
“Now, insistence by some on casting a ballot in person — inspired by the president’s call to his supporters to doubt the existing system, even to test it by voting twice — threatens to overwhelm voting-day infrastructure, some fear,” the report states before adding, “Across Utah, concerns about mail balloting have grown so severe that as many as 22 percent of likely voters plan to vote in person, according to a Y2 Analytics survey earlier this month. That would represent double the share of voters who normally participate in person,” at polling places that lack enough equipment and poll workers to handle the previously unanticipated flood of anxious voters.
“If they come in person at that rate, our system will be overwhelmed, and those who have aggressively expressed concerns about voting will have needlessly fulfilled their own prophecy,” Hatch said.
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