Earlier this year I went to my precinct to vote in the local school board elections. I have owned my primary residence and held this physical address in Summit County since 1997. I have voted in local, regional and national elections alike without issue until this year.
When I arrived at my long-time voting location in Kamas, I was told there was a problem: I was not on the list. The presiding official called the county clerk’s office while I waited, and talked at length with someone responsible for handling these issues on Election Day.
After taking a half hour out of my day to vote, I waited almost another half hour while the two election officials discussed where I should be voting here, or in Oakley. The verdict, finally, was that I should be voting in Oakley. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to vote in Oakley, and so inadvertently I was disenfranchised.
I assumed, however, that because they had told me where to go vote, the problem was identified and would be resolved. Early this past week, I called the Summit County clerk’s office and asked where I could vote early. They located me in their system, then told me my early voting locations: the Richins building or The Park City Library building.
I rearranged my priorities Wednesday morning, the 29th of October, when normally I would be working in Salt Lake City, to await the opening of early voting polls at 10 a.m. I waited half an hour in line to check in at the desk. When I got there, they could not find me in their system.
When they called the county clerk’s office, I was located immediately. Apparently, however, they had not fixed the problem so that I could vote early by normal ballot. Instead, I would have to vote by provisional ballot.
You may remember that provisional ballots are one of a host of contentious election issues left over from the last two presidential elections. While Summit County may have an excellent record of provisional ballot counting and low disqualification, I preferred and believe I have the right to vote by normal ballot.
I was handed the phone at the polling place and talked with a person in the county clerk’s office. He asked if I had voted in the school board election where the issue originated. I had not. His response was that they needed me to vote then in order to create a paper trail so they could fix the problem.
He put his senior person on the phone. Loni Vernon explained that early in the year the office switched to confirming by Global Positioning System (GPS) identification of registered voter physical addresses. Thirty-seven addressees remained with known unresolved issues as of Wednesday morning, she said.
Loni apologized for my frustration, and explained that they could probably get the issue resolved by later in the week and I could vote early then.
Here is the problem. I went to vote in the school board elections, and the problem was identified, phoned in, and discussed at length, while I waited.
Why was a phone call from the Kamas polling official during the earlier school board elections not enough to resolve the problem? The claim that the organization needed a paper trail wouldn’t fly in most customer-service situations.
The difference between customer service in most organizations and the right to vote is this: elections come only so often, and once they are over, if you have been discouraged or prevented from voting, however inadvertent, you are out of luck. This means it is incumbent on the county clerk’s office and other officials in the chain to have their priorities straight. The problem as I see it is that internal organizational goals and defensive organizational thinking may be contributing to disenfranchisement in national and local elections this year, and this is simply not acceptable.
In an organization that serves the voting public, if voting is a privilege, then all the unconscious behaviors and attitudes will tend to be organized around concepts relating to privilege: earning the privilege, demonstrating how far you will go to show you deserve the privilege. In a democracy where voting is a right, the organization is beholden to assure that the highest possible degree of enfranchisement is available to all. Defensiveness necessarily is off-putting and has no place in serving the public at times of a national election.
The first priority for our county clerk’s office during voting time is service to all its citizens, and vigilant awareness for circumstances that may inadvertently disenfranchise. Steps should be taken to insure beyond a shadow of a doubt that defensiveness, additional waiting times, haggling, change of polling place or access to normalized voting and other forms of off-putting behavior do not interfere with the right for every citizen to vote.
If 37 issues are known in this county of 27,301 registered voters, how many issues exist in other counties across the state, or nation? Are these simply acceptable losses?
I will call the county clerk’s office to certify that my new polling place is now Peoa. I will go to Peoa to vote on November 4. I will deliver a personal letter to Ken Jones discussing the problems I have identified. I encourage you all to remain vigilant on behalf of one another as well, that we may protect one another’s rights, and remind one another of our responsibilities in this community, and our community at large.
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