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Ep. 17: Ricky Hatch, Clerk Auditor, Weber County, Utah

Ballot Box Briefing: Episode 17

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The Ballot Box Briefing is a weekly segment on Sirius XM’s The Briefing, that examines the issues and storylines at the heart of running an efficient and accurate election. Guests include election administrators, local, state, and federal officials, cybersecurity experts, legal analysts, and members of BPC’s Democracy Program.

Episode 17. Ricky Hatch talked about Utah’s vote-by-mail system, the importance of transparency in the elections process, and how to foster a more informed electorate.


The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Voiceover: And now a deeper dive into the 2024 election from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Here’s Steve Scully with your Ballot Box Briefing. 

Steve Scully (SS): And we focus on ballot box briefing to ensure that as we head to the polls and cast our ballots that it’s counted accurately, safely and fairly. Joining us from Weber County, Utah is the Clerk Auditor Ricky Hatch. It’s a beautiful part of northern Utah. Ricky, thank you so much for being with us. 

Ricky Hatch (RH): Thanks so much, Steve. No rain here in Utah. It’s a gorgeous day in the mid 70s. Loving it. 

SS: Oh please, you’re making us jealous. Send that sunshine here. We need it here in DC. Hey, what is the job of the Clerk Auditor, by the way. 

RH: It’s actually a combination of two things and it’s really protecting your elections and your money. So, the clerk side handles marriage licenses, passport applications, records and elections. And then on the auditor side, it’s like the CFO of the county. So it’s a broad range of duties that don’t fully overlap, frankly. 

SS: So, Weber County in Utah in general, one of the earliest adopters of universal mail-in voting. How does it work and how do you make sure it is fair and counted accurately? 

RH: Oh, that’s a great question. And the term universal mail in voting is quite misunderstood. A more accurate term would be hybrid voting, because we will always allow people to vote in person if they would like to. But what we do in Weber County as well as in the state of Utah is, every active registered voter who has voted at least once in the past two general elections, we proactively mail them a ballot three weeks before Election Day. Then they have a variety of options to cast their vote. They can come vote in person on Election Day, or early. They can return their ballot by the post office—we have 23 drop boxes open 24 hours a day, they can drop them there. Or, they can walk in person and drop their ballot off in person. All of those options are available, and every ballot gets subject to the exact same set of controls to make sure that that voter is a legitimate voter, that that ballot is a legitimate ballot, and that they have only voted once.  

SS: Is there a bar code? I mean how do you do that? 

RH: Very good question. Yes, we have a bar code on the outside of the envelope that is unique not just to that election and not just to that voter, but really specifically to that ballot. So if a voter wanted to be tricky and they said, ‘hey, my dog ate my ballot, can you send me a new one,’ we say ‘you bet,’ before we can even print a new ballot. Then we have to spoil that bar code, so if they decided to try to return both ballots, that first one would be rejected by the system… the first time it goes through the machine, and then they probably get a call from our attorney or from the FBI because you can’t vote twice.  

SS: Because as you know, the claim in 2020 was repeated over and over again and even in 2024, a majority of Republicans still feel that the 2020 election was stolen. And with all the litigation, nothing was proven, and yet that is still out there in the political ecosystem. 

RH: You’re right, and it’s really frustrating. Election officials across the country, we feel the same way. If anyone has any questions, we’re asking them, please come in and ask us the hard questions. Come in and look at our processes and challenge us. Look for holes. I always tell people,  ‘think like a crook,’ look for holes because if you can find holes, then I’ll try my best to plug them. The problem is in a society—and we’re busy, I get it—but we tend to look at headlines and we tend to go to people that we trust and quite often they don’t have the full story, and what we’re saying is please, become educated. It’s not hard. We would love to have people come in and give them personalized tours so they can understand the process. 

SS: Which is why you continue to tell your constituents that voting is not enough. What do you mean by that? 

RH: Well, you know, we all have to contribute to our society and some of us do it by serving in public office. We all do it by voting and obeying the law. But we have to be informed voters and informed citizens. And that means don’t just rely on what we read on Facebook or on Twitter or even the main news or any kind of news. We have to step up and be smart consumers of media and really question everything. And I think there’s no election official out there that wouldn’t want you to question. Just ask the questions and then take a look and make objective informed decisions. 

SS: We are talking to the Clerk Auditor in Weber County, Utah. It’s it looks like Weber like Weber Grill, but it’s pronounced [wee-burr.] Ricky Hatch. As we look back at 2020 and I’m from Pennsylvania, I’ve talked about that often. They have a very antiquated system in Pennsylvania, really no early voting. That changed because of COVID. As you look at the election map across the country, how significant was COVID when it comes to state and local officials analyzing election laws and saying how can we do this better? 

RH: It was pretty disruptive and not all of that was bad. In Utah, as a state, we were already conducting our elections mostly by mail. And so when COVID came and people couldn’t go into public spaces as often, that wasn’t a big challenge for us. However, I felt so bad for so many of my patriots across the country who had to pivot in a matter of months and plan an entirely new type of election. Had Utah pivoted to an all in-person voting election in three or four months, we would have really struggled as well. They did a great job. The nice thing is our elections community is so collaborative, we did a lot of webinars and one-on-one calls helping people figure out how to ramp up their vote by mail process as quickly as possible and as securely as possible. Yeah, that was 2020, COVID really did a number in, you know, obviously everywhere, but especially in the elections world. 

SS: Ricky Hatch, when you talk to other clerk auditors and election officials in counties across the state and you talked about what’s working in Weber County, what do you tell them? What is working and what are the lessons that these other counties can apply to what Utah is doing? 

RH: It’s really a methodical approach to risk and control. We take a look at the election from a risk perspective. I’m a CPA and I’ve been an internal auditor and an external auditor for years. You have to look at what the risk is and then you directly attack that risk with the best controls possible. So you implement multiple layers of controls where you just really focus on making every risk as minimal as possible. Then you document that, and then you execute it, and you test the heck out it. You’re constantly looking back and trying to improve. I’ve been really encouraged because I see that same methodology and that same attitude across the country as I talk with election officials. They really are constantly looking at how can we do this better, more accurate and more efficient. 

SS: And when you hear from people that say I don’t trust the election results, the thing is crooked. What do you tell them? 

RH: I say I understand, and please come in and take a look. Come ask the hard questions. Come take a hard look at the processes and hopefully you’ll see some things you like and maybe you’ll uncover some things you don’t like, and then let’s work to fix them. But we’re not here to hide anything. In fact, the more people come in and look and observe, the better. We would love to have you come in and take a look. 

SS: So that may have answered my final question, if there was one thing that you wish people knew more about elections in Weber County or across the country, Ricky Hatch, what would it be? 

RH: It really would be how much every election official just absolutely cares about every vote, and all of our safeguards focus on that goal. We are so objective, when we meet at conferences and go out to dinner, we’ll talk for three hours about elections and election administration, and then we go back to the hotel and I think, I don’t even know what party they’re from. We just don’t care about that. When we come to work, we put on our referee caps and we are absolutely, fiercely independent and objective, and we just want the elections to be secure and accurate and transparent. 

SS: We need to bring the show to Weber County, Utah. Ricky Hatch, thank you so much for being with us here on The Briefing. We appreciate it. 

RH: Absolutely. You come out anytime. Would love to have you, Steve.