Morgan County lawmaker wants opt-in requirement to vote by mail

Aug 29, 2023, 2:51 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2023, 4:10 pm

Image of a generic vote by mail envelope....

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan told KSL NewsRadio she plans to reintroduce legislation she ran late last year that would require voters to check a box on the state's elections website, or when they register, to choose to have their by-mail ballot sent. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

MORGAN COUNTY, Utah –A Morgan County representative is bringing back her bill to require Utahns to opt in before they can vote by mail.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan told KSL NewsRadio she plans to reintroduce the legislation she ran late in the last legislative session that would require voters to check a box on the state’s elections website, or when they register, specifically choosing to have their by-mail ballot sent.

“This is a way to, number one, clean up the voter rolls,” Birkeland said. “Number two, (it) get(s) people to actively participate in selecting that ballot that way, and number three, if you want to show up to vote, we want you there, and you don’t have to get that ballot in the mail.”

Critics argue an opt-in requirement to vote by mail would make voting harder. They say it would require an extra step for voters to participate.  Right now, county clerks mail ballots automatically to any active registered voter. An active registered voter is someone who’s participated in the last two election cycles. 

“I think voting is a privilege,” said Birkeland. “I think that people should actively engage in the process and not just sit at home and hope that their ballot comes and that they haven’t been accidently — or purposefully — removed from a voting list.”

Utah’s top election official, Lieutenant Gov. Deidre Henderson credited Birkeland for doing her but job but said that she would be watching it play out through the legislative process.  

“I think that concept could give a lot people pause,” she said reiterating that is why a legislative process exits. “Sometimes what start outs on the front end isn’t what we get on the backend.” 

Three large counties report low undeliverable rates

Birkeland argues that ballots often make it to people who no longer live at the address on their voter registration, or people get the ballot who end up not using it.

“A lot of people get ballots by mail who don’t use them,” she said. “They go into the voting locations, that’s how they prefer to vote,” she said.

In the 2022 midterm elections, 93.5% of Utahns voted by mail according to data provided by county clerks. 

County Clerks in Davis, Salt Lake, and Weber counties also report low ballot undeliverable rates. An undeliverable rate is the percentage of ballots sent back to the clerk’s office because the address isn’t correct, or the voter no longer lives there. It’s a signal of how “clean” the voter rolls are.

In Davis County, the undeliverable rates for the general elections of 2022 and 2020 were 1.63% and 1.5%, respectively.

In Weber County, the undeliverable rates for the general elections of 2022 and 2020 were 1.8% and 1.2%, respectively.

“That’s positive news to hear, ” said Birkeland. She said she could only speak to what’s happening in Morgan County.

“And we have a high turnout of people who turn up on election day to vote,  who often didn’t get their ballot or have their ballot in their hand and still want to show up and vote on election day,” she said.

Birkeland also said she hadn’t spoken to Morgan County’s clerk about her bill concept.

Opt-in to vote by mail, the cost savings

Birkeland further argues that an opt-in option will save counties money on postage and printing costs because they wouldn’t send as many ballots. 

“Whatever the amount is that we could save we should be looking as a state to save, because whatever amount we save is hopefully money that people get to keep in their wallets,” she said. 

It’s not known exactly how much it would save counties, but if fewer people are sent ballots because they don’t opt in then the counties would save money.

But generally speaking, it costs more to run in-person elections than by-mail elections.  

“Moving to an opt-in solution would save printing and postage costs because not as many ballots would be printed and mailed,” said Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch.

“But those cost savings would be dramatically outweighed by the increased equipment and labor costs for expanded in-person voting.”

Birkeland said she has hopes to bring the bill before the October Government Operations committee.

She also said that about half her Republican caucus in the Utah House of Representatives supports the concept.

“Those in leadership I’ve spoken to think it’s a logical bill and approach to a concern by many, many Republicans in our state that voter integrity, election integrity is an issue.”

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Morgan County lawmaker wants opt-in requirement to vote by mail