Group pushes for in-person voting, county clerks call it a bad idea

Dec 7, 2021, 6:20 PM
primary ballot Utah 2022...
A mail-in ballot from Salt Lake County (Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)
(Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — One political group is promoting a new ballot initiative (in-person voting) that they believe would heighten ballot integrity by bringing the state’s election system to what it used to be.  However, the proposed law is getting intense pushback from county clerks. 

The group Secure Vote Utah posted on its website that they want a system that’s more transparent and secure for voters.  They say, in decades past, pollsters and election judges were able to tally the votes and release the results within a few hours of the polls closing.

In-person voting on Election Day

The group’s website says, “We want to return to this proven system to reduce costs and enhance security.”

The initiative the group proposes would require most voting to happen on Election Day at in-person precincts, plus election judges would be required to publicly release the results.  It also would allow absentee ballot voting to happen on a limited basis. It would also create emergency ballots for people who wouldn’t be able to make it to their polling locations for unforeseen reasons.  The initiative would also let a candidate to start a sample audit after an election.

County clerks say it will cause more problems

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says the proposal wouldn’t make voting any more secure than it is now.  She believes the initiative would set Utah’s election system back 40 years.

“We got our tabulation system, the punch card system, in 1981,” she said.

Swensen says the proposal would require people state a specific reason why they should be able to use an absentee ballot, making it much harder for people to vote if they have an emergency.  She also takes issue with the idea that voters would have to take their absentee ballots to specific precincts instead of one centrally located drop-off point. 

Plus, she refutes the idea that the move would save costs.  Swensen says she would have to hire six new workers for every one of the county’s 800 precincts. That would cost the county over $1 million.

“We don’t have people sitting at polls any longer, and we haven’t for 40 years, hand counting paper ballots,” Swensen said.

Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch agrees the proposal would be significantly more expensive than our current election system.  He was asked to work on the fiscal note for the proposed initiative.

“I’m not done, but I’m already at $22 million,” Hatch said.

Hand-counting each ballot

Hatch believes it might seem like hand-counting each ballot would be cheaper since it requires less equipment. However, he believes the group overlooked how much it would cost to hire new employees.  He also questions how hand-counting the ballots would make the process more secure. He adds that machinery offers more measures of control than the proposed system.

Hatch said, “Any time you introduce 100 percent human involvement, that brings on a risk that a lot more difficult to control.”

The initiative is also being criticized by Utah Division of Indian Affairs Director Dustin Jansen.  He says the law would not recognize tribal ID cards as accepted forms of ID. And many Native Americans live far away from their polling locations.

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Group pushes for in-person voting, county clerks call it a bad idea