It would have meant much more 99 years ago when legislatures still elected U.S. senators instead of voters, but Dan Liljenquist defeated Sen. Orrin Hatch in a poll of state senators about whom they prefer in Utah's U.S. Senate race.
Liljenquist received 11 votes, Hatch had seven, Democrat Pete Ashdown received two and six senators chose not to participate. Three others never responded, according to results released Wednesday.
The secret-ballot poll was required by SR1, passed this year by Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City. He said such polls will restore some connection between state and federal senators, which he said has largely disappeared since the 17th Amendment was ratified 99 years ago to allow direct election of senators by voters.
"I'm not surprised at the results. Thirteen senators have publicly endorsed me," said Liljenquist, who resigned from the state Senate to challenge Hatch. "It's important to show that I have a good relationship with senators, that I will continue to work the Legislature."
"I don't think it means much," said Dave Hansen, Hatch's campaign manager. "Dan Liljenquist said he had support of all senators at one time, and this shows that isn't true."
"I never said that," Liljenquist said. "I said a majority of Republican senators support me, and they do."
Hansen also complained that the poll was by secret ballot. "They vote publicly on everything else. Why not this?"
Emails obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open records law request show attorneys worried for a time that the way the balloting was handled may have made emails casting the votes subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act.
Emails show that the Legislative Auditor General's Office warned senators that if they voted via email instead of by phone or post, "there is a possibility that your response could be subject to a GRAMA request," so "you may want to delete the message after you send it."
When the Price Sun Advocate newspaper filed a GRAMA request for ballots during the election period, the Legislative Auditor General's Office sent another email warning to nine senators who had already responded by email about that. It said the state would delete emails after the ballot was printed, and again encouraged senders to erase emails they sent.
Legislative Auditor General John Schaff said Thursday that the resolution that ordered the poll said it should be by secret ballot, so his office conducted it in such a way that even his staff does not know how most individual senators voted.
He said they put a control number on each ballot emailed to senators. That way, they would know if a ballot sent to them came from a senator, and it would not allow voting more than once. He said staffers did know a few votes by senators who phoned them in, and it had them certify that it was OK with them.
He said because the poll was ordered to be by secret ballot and because his office generally cannot connect votes to individuals, it would deny GRAMA requests for ballots and emails that sent them filed by the Sun Advocate and others.