In the late 19th century, Utah’s primary political parties were not the Democratic and Republican Parties, but the Liberal and People’s Parties. These parties’ primary difference was religious: the Liberal Party was anti-Mormon, and the People’s Party was pro-Mormon.
Their rivalry was usually far from friendly; The 1884 Summit County Liberal Convention, which was dominated by Parkites, adopted a platform which alleged that the People’s Party was indistinguishable from the LDS Church, which was guilty of “enslaving the souls and bodies of men, women and children” and teaching “hostility to United States authority.”[i] Members of the People’s Party, meanwhile, accused “the so-called ‘Liberal’ organization” of protecting “sexual sinners outside the Mormon community” while pursuing religious discrimination against followers of the LDS Church. One speaker at an 1884 People’s rally accused the Liberals of plotting to overthrow the territorial government and replace it with a tyrannical, anti-Mormon regime.[ii] The rivalry between the two parties was, in short, extraordinarily bitter, leading to an election and aftermath reminiscent of 2020.
Although the People’s Party were predictably dominant throughout much of Utah, the majority non-Mormon Park City produced a Liberal victory in Summit County elections held on August 3rd, 1885, elections which selected both a representative to the Territorial Legislature and officeholders for a number of local positions.[iii] The Salt Lake Democrat characterized the victory as “the People’s Party [being] Waterlooed at the hands of the miners”.[iv]
Though the People’s Party-supporting Salt Lake Herald-Republican initially acknowledged that the Party was “finally bagged” in Summit County, the next two weeks saw the Herald-Republican, the Ogden Herald, the Deseret News, and the Utah Journal publish a number of allegations of voter fraud – including claims that an election official solicited camped Union Pacific Railroad workers to vote in the name of dead and emigrated Parkites, and that supporters of the People’s Party were inexplicably taken off lists of registered voters and not allowed to vote despite unregistered Liberals being allowed to register and vote on the spot. [v], [vi], & [vii] The Park Record pushed back against these allegations, but they were outnumbered by papers frantically promoting fraud allegations and calling for restitution.[viii]
The main candidates facing allegations of illegitimate election were Martin Correl, for Councilor (the Utah Territorial Council was the Territorial Assembly’s upper house) and David C. McLaughlin, for Representative (the Utah Territorial House of Representatives was the Territorial Assembly’s lower house). Three other Summit County role candidates faced less pressure: Frederick W. Hayt, A. L. Seward, and O. L. Lockhart.[ix]
At an August 20th meeting of the Utah Commission and its Board of Canvassers, things came to a head as the group examined the Summit County returns. A lawyer for the People’s Central Committee of Summit County first requested that the group stay their certification of the vote, but when the group narrowly voted to proceed he then demanded that the Board procure “ballot boxes, lists, and witnesses” for an investigation which should commence within the next five days.[x] The Commission determined, however, that the returns did not display any apparent irregularities, and that they did not have the authority to launch an investigation into the election based solely on the complaints of the People’s Party – complaints which at least two of the Commission’s members characterized as lacking the specificity or proof required to produce a productive investigation.[xi] They eventually unanimously certified the results.[xii]
While the Salt Lake Democrat praised the decision and mocked the allegations made by supporters of the People’s Party as vague “insinuations of fraud”, the Deseret News was livid, and attacked the (surely biased) Commission, Park City-based judges who had signed election returns rather than refusing to, and the territorial laws that allowed the Commission to avoid conducting an investigation they thought was obviously needed. [xiii] & [xiv]
People’s Party supporters continued to protest against allowing the Liberal candidate for the Territorial Legislature to take his seat, and the People’s candidate sued him in an effort to reverse the result of the election.[xv] This effort, however, appears to have been unsuccessful; all the successful Liberal candidates would eventually take the seats they had won. By November, the Deseret News and the Ogden Herald both published accounts of that year’s elections, which noted the Liberal triumph in Summit County without casting suspicion on the election’s legitimacy, finally stepping back from such challenges.[xvi] & [xvii]
[i] “County Liberal Convention,” Park Record, July 12, 1884, 4, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s67w7f9q/8293410.
[ii] “People’s Party Rally,” Deseret Evening News, November 4, 1884, 3, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6643pqk/23178729.
[iii] “The Territorial Election,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 22, 1885, 4, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6d51x49/13128556.
[iv] “Knocked Out in Summit County,” Salt Lake Democrat, August 5, 1885, 4, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6x362sb/9906350.
[v] “In Summit County,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, August 7, 1885, 8, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6446t1s/10706267.
[vi] “Alleged Frauds in Summit County,” Deseret Evening News, August 14, 1885, 2, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s61013bx/23179970.
[vii] “Election Frauds,” Utah Journal, August 19, 1885, 3, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6q25cgf/20885460.
[viii] “Local News,” Ogden Herald, August 17, 1885, 2, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6xd22d0/7398701.
[ix] “Summit County: the Population of Park City Suddenly Increases,” Ogden Herald, August 7, 1885, 3, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6zc93pm/7398424
[x] “The Park Protest,” Salt Lake Democrat, August 20, 1885, 4, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6q53twg/9899675.
[xi] “Canvassing the Results,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, August 19, 1885, 8, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6k089w6/10710232.
[xii] “The Summit County Election,” Deseret Evening News, August 10, 1885, 3, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6c869b5/23179998.
[xiii] “Dismissed,” Salt Lake Democrat, August 21, 1885, 2, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6tb2c7v/9886676.
[xiv] “The Summit County Affair,” Deseret Evening News, August 21, 1885, 2, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s67h5jk0/23180002.
[xv] “Local News,” Deseret News, September 2, 1885, 9, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6cg0jpb.
[xvi] “Report of the Utah Commission,” Deseret Evening News, November 2, 1885, 1, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6769fcg.
[xvii] “Long and Stale: A Synopsis of the Report of the Utah Commission,” Ogden Herald, November 3, 1885, 1, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6cn84m7.