Utah County officials simplify ballot for upcoming election

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Ari Davis
Bryan Thompson stands with an election kit that is being prepared to be sent out. (Ari Davis)

Five cities in Utah County allow citizens to vote through mail-in ballots before Election Day in an effort to make voting more convenient and increase voter turnout. Voting system changes were recently made to solidify this voting policy, leaving the question of whether other cities in the county will follow suite.

The changes were finalized Aug. 31 when Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah County officials agreed to allow the voters in Utah County’s five vote-by-mail cities — Orem, Lehi, Vineyard, Cedar Hills and Alpine — to cast only one ballot in the upcoming November election, instead of having to also vote in-person for the countywide ballot proposition.

“I appreciate the willingness of all parties to work together on this important issue,” Cox said in a press release. “Our focus must always be on what is best for voters, and I believe this resolution accomplishes that.”

Under this agreement, each voter in the specified cities will only need to cast one ballot, which was sent out in the mail about a month before election day for both municipal elections and the county ballot proposition. Voters can return their completed ballots using a prepaid envelope or drop a completed ballot at the city center.

Ballots will be validated by county election officials using a signature verification system, and the cities will still provide limited locations to vote in person on Election Day for voters who prefer that system.

Currently, the other municipalities in Utah County conduct traditional elections, which involves in-person polling locations and the option for voters to request a by-mail ballot.

The Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office also mailed each household in the traditional voting municipalities a postcard about a month before the election reminding voters that they may request a by-mail ballot online or in person.

But some remaining cities in Utah County, including Provo, are considering making the system change to send mail-in ballots to all citizens.

“Provo is currently considering the option of vote-by-mail for their future municipal elections,” said Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson. “I think they will probably make the decision by the 2017 Municipal elections, so the August 2017 Provo Municipal Primary would be the first time they would do vote by mail.”

According to Thompson, in 2016 and 2018, during the general elections when the County is in charge, Provo will be doing a traditional election with the option for those who like voting by mail to be put on Utah County’s permanent absentee ballot list so they can get a ballot in the mail. Provo will also do early voting starting two weeks in advance of election day. Then, on election day, there will be polling place voting in the voters neighborhoods.

Provo City officials and researchers at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy collaborated to send out an online survey to Provo residents in early 2015 to get public opinion about the idea of changing to a mail-in ballot system.

“Provo City is considering changing its elections to a mail-in ballot system,” the survey said, and then asked questions such as whether residents would find a mail-in ballot more convenient or whether they would be worried about fraud.

They survey showed that 80 percent of Provo residents at least “somewhat supported” this new system for municipal elections, while 20 percent at least “somewhat opposed” the new ballot measure.

“At first I was excited about the convenience of the ballot being delivered right to my door, but now I’m wary of putting personal information through the mail,” said Kyrstin Garvin, a Provo resident. “On the other hand, if they don’t require voters to put sensitive information on the ballot, how will they prevent fraud?”

Provo resident Dan Garvin, Kyrstin’s husband, said this simplified system may not be the best option for voters as mailed ballots may be easily misplaced or forgotten about, lowering voter turnout.

However, according to an Orem City newsletter, Orem’s voter turnout increased 350 percent, as compared to the 2011 election, by using the vote-by-mail system during September’s primary election for city council.

Although the ballot and administrative matters will be combined, each municipality will certify their respective election results and the county will approve its ballot proposition. The cost of the election will be shared between the municipalities and the county.

Conducting elections entirely by mail has been seen as almost universally good for the professionals who manage and consult for candidates’ campaigns. When voters get their ballots a few weeks before election day, those campaigns begin with a known universe of people with ballots in hand. As voters return their ballots, they are crossed off the target list, allowing campaigns to refine their contact universe and save money by boosting efficiency.

Most critically for the voter, returning a ballot early by mail can end the ceaseless calls and door-knocks that come in a hotly contested election.

“Another one of the advantages of the vote-by-mail system is that it really can increase voter turnout by making the whole process more convenient for voters,” Thompson said. “It can make voting a win-win situation, but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks.”

According to Thompson, those drawbacks include ballots getting lost in the mail due to honest mistakes and voters not updating their addresses.

“Honestly, voting by mail is the lazy man’s way,” Thompson said. “If you like the vote-by-mail format, I suggest that you sign up for an absentee ballot instead because you can vote when it’s convenient, instead of having just the option of Election Day, and it allows you to put forth just a little more effort.”

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