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Judge dismisses Mia Love’s ballot lawsuit with prejudice

November 16, 2018

A 3rd District Court judge has permanently dismissed a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Mia Love in an effort to be able to challenge determinations on whether the signatures on ballots match those on file with the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office.

Judge James Gardner did not rule immediately after arguments were made in the case Thursday afternoon, but filed a motion Friday afternoon dismissing the suit with prejudice.

The suit, filed by Love against Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, sought a way to challenge determinations on whether signatures on a ballot matched the signatures on file with the county.

According to Gardner’s ruling, the suit failed to show how Love was entitled to that under Utah statute.

″(T)he Love Parties failed to point the Court to a single statute, rule or case that would entitle them to any of the relief sought in the Petition. Instead, the Love Parties effectively ask the Court to create expansive new rights for campaign involvement in ballot processing,” the ruling states.

The rights of poll watchers are outlined in Utah’s Election code, the ruling says, and are limited by statute.

“Neither a poll watcher nor a candidate enjoys a statutory right to challenge, override or re-do the type of work by an election official at issue in this case. And the Court declines the Love Parties’ invitation to create new rights not found in the Election Code.”

Gardner’s ruling stated that Love’s arguments for increasing candidate involvement in the signature verification process is something better directed at the Utah Legislature, which has the power to change election law.

The ruling also states that Robert Harrington, who represented the Love campaign during Thursday’s arguments, attempted to add another item of relief not mentioned in the original lawsuit by arguing that Salt Lake County’s voter affidavits are deficient and shouldn’t be the sole means used to verify ballots where the signature is in question.

“They fail to provide the Court with any authority that would allow them to do so for the first time in an opposition memorandum,” the ruling states.

In addition, the lawsuit was brought to the court so late in the process, it would have been difficult to grant the relief requested, Gardner’s ruling states.

“Section 20A-1-404 contemplates that an election controversy will be brought to the court’s attention early enough in the process that the court can direct an election official to come into substantial compliance with the Election Code,” the ruling states. ”...But, here, much of the relief requested in the Petition relates to election work that has already been performed; and, in most respects, cannot be undone.”

Another issue with the petition, the ruling says, is it would result in a procedure that would only be applied to voters in one county, and only to ballots not yet counted.

“The court recognizes the potential constitutional problems that could result from applying different rules to different voters.”

The election between incumbent Love and her Democratic challenger Ben McAdams is now separated by 1,000 votes, with Utah and Salt Lake counties planning to release more results Friday by 3 p.m.

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