POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Proposed bill would change mail-in ballots, Salt Lake County Clerk says ‘there’s no need to change’

Jan 19, 2024, 8:00 PM

Democratic Party credits mail-in voting...

FILE: A voter holds a mail-in ballot in Provo on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. A Utah lawmaker will propose legislation that would remove a voter from mail-in ballot lists if they fail to vote in a presidential election. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are considering a bill that would require voters to ask to receive mail-in ballots.

Salt Lake County Clerk Lannie Chapman sees a few issues with H.B. 537. For one, if it were to pass, the cost of elections would go up.

“In addition to mailing the by-mail ballots, I would also have to send every single eligible voter [in Salt Lake County] a postcard asking them if they want to opt in to vote by mail that year or not,” Chapman said.

She said as of right now there are about 600,000 registered voters in Salt Lake County. The cost of that extra mail would be a lot.

Additionally, Chapman said all eligible voters already receive a mail-in ballot by default with the option to opt-out.

“All counties have the ability to opt people out if they don’t want to receive a by-mail ballot for whatever reason,” she said. “It does not make them an inactive voter. It just tells my office they don’t want to receive a by-mail ballot.”

Positives of mail-in ballots according to Chapman

However, Utah has “embraced” its vote-by-mail system, according to Chapman. During last year’s election, 99% of those who voted in Salt Lake County used a mail-in ballot.

Along with this, Chapman said mail-in ballots have helped raise voter participation in Utah.

“If you look at participation in the early 2000s to more recently in, let’s say … a municipal race,” she said. “In the early 2000s, before we had primarily vote-by-mail, it wasn’t uncommon for us to see voter participation in the teens.”

While participation was still low last year, about 33% to 35%, Chapman believes participation not dipping lower than that is due to mail-in ballots.

“I would dare say that has a lot to do with the fact that we make it so much more convenient,” she said. “It works. There’s no need to change it.”

There has been some concern about mail-in ballots not being secure, but Chapman said that is not the case.

“Not only do we have great laws on the books, but all the counties have really great procedures in place, making sure that the ballots … make it all the way to the election management center to be processed,” she said. “Salt Lake County, for instance, we work with [the] Unified Police Department to pick up from our drop boxes.”

According to Chapman, the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office utilizes the help of two sworn officers to collect ballots. She said the officers deliver the ballots in a timely fashion and “in a way that we can all feel safe and secure about them.”

KSL NewsRadio has reached out to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, for comment several times, but she has not replied.

Devin Oldroyd contributed to this story.

Related: On the first day of the Utah legislative session, talk of changes to mail-in ballots

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Proposed bill would change mail-in ballots, Salt Lake County Clerk says ‘there’s no need to change’