Election Day voters in Summit County upset ballots weren’t counted on Tuesday
When Malory Pigott voted in the 2016 election, she went to a voting center at Ecker Hill Middle School. At the time, she was unaware that she should have received a mail-in-ballot. It was the first general election where the county was using the vote-by-mail system.
While the Jeremy Ranch resident distinctly remembers easily casting her vote, she said this year her experience was completely different.
Pigott was given a provisional ballot on Tuesday and told it would need to be qualified before her vote would count. She said other people in line started to ask questions about the process and why they were also receiving provisional ballots.
“That’s why I was so shocked,” she said. “I was never told to fill out a slip in 2016. I walked up to a voting machine, voted and walked away. I can swear up and down this is not how it was. So now I’m wondering if it will even get counted. Honestly, I thought it was a personal choice to vote in person.”
Pigott was one of 1,568 people who received a provisional ballot on Election Day. Those votes were not added to the results until Friday afternoon.
Election Day voters, even if they are registered in advance, received provisional ballots so that they can be qualified and staffers can ensure those voters didn’t also cast a mail-in ballot, Summit County Clerk Kent Jones said. Same-day registration was also a new option this year that had to be considered. Jones suspects about half of the 1,568 people who voted on Tuesday registered at the same time.
“We had to add people that were never registered to our system and anyone who showed up at a voting center because they wanted to, we had to make sure there weren’t two ballots out there,” Jones said.
When Summit County joined other counties across the state in implementing a vote-by-mail system, voters were strongly encouraged to submit mail-in ballots rather than going to the polls. Only people who did not receive a ballot through the mail or had an issue with registration were told to vote in person.
In 2016, 2,500 votes were cast on Election Day, with only 341 of those considered provisional. Jones said the county was still using voting machines that included registration data, which reduced the number of provisional ballots.
“They knew whether (another) ballot had been turned in or not in 2016,” he said. “We don’t have that live data or the touch screens this time. They are different machines. That’s why we had to do provisional ballots and were unable to count their vote Tuesday.
“It’s going to count, it just won’t count on election night,” he added. “I understand everyone’s frustration. But, I don’t know how we change that process because everyone is anxious to know results election night. I don’t want to hold that hostage until we add in another 1,568 ballots.”
More than 25,000 ballots were mailed to registered voters in the county. More than 17,000 were returned before election night, Jones said. Some larger counties in Utah have the ability to scan ballots on site, he said, so those votes are counted election night. Summit County, though, doesn’t have those resources. Approximately 18,882 ballots had been counted as of Friday afternoon — a turnout total of 74.3 percent.
“We have a process that works and that is what we are following,” he said. “I’m not trying to be critical. But, by far the by-mail system has been really embraced by Summit County voters. To get a 70 percent by election night in our hands and already uploaded, that is a compliment to the voting public.”
Some voters who chose to go to the polls wish the system was different. Dorothy Meinhold, who lives in Pinebrook and has been registered to vote in Summit County for more than a decade, said voters should have a choice of how they cast their ballots and still have their votes count on election night.
“It’s not hard to do,” she said. “Many states allow you to make a choice — ballot or vote at the booth — and they don’t require provisional ballots. That’s just archaic. That’s where everyone I spoke to was outraged. We wanted our vote to count Tuesday night. At some level it feels like voter suppression.”
Meinhold said she initially thought the mail-in ballot system would be convenient for those who couldn’t get out to the polls or were traveling. But, she never envisioned it would require in-person ballots to be counted after election night.
“It’s my personal preference and right to go to the polls,” she said. “I can remember when I pulled my first lever at 18. That feeling of pride has never left me. It is my patriotic right to want to show up on Election Day and vote. I will not fill out another provisional ballot. I will sit on the floors until they drag me out because I will not give up my right to vote on voting day. I will not have it taken away.”
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A gas leak forced the evacuation of North Summit High School and North Summit Middle School Monday afternoon in Coalville. No injuries were reported.