Summit County to debut mail-in ballot system for June primary
This week, more than 23,000 registered voters will receive letters about Summit County’s new mail-in ballot system and what they need to do before the Primary Election in June.
The mailers encourage voters to verify that their registration information, such as their address and party affiliation, are accurate to ensure they receive the appropriate ballot. Ballots will be sent out during the first week of June.
The new system won’t place any more of a burden on voters than the previous one did, according to Summit County Clerk Kent Jones. However, it will force them to become engaged with the election sooner.
"The process hasn’t really changed prior to the election. But people do need to understand it is a vote-by-mail election and not a day-of election," Jones said. "The only thing that has really changed is the steps we take in our office to tabulate the ballots."
Summit County’s voters will join the more than 70 percent of Utahns living in counties that have already adopted mail-in balloting, which will be used for the primary and general elections. This year, early voting will not take place because the ballots will be sent out up to three weeks before the election.
Jones said he made the decision to switch to the new system after the number of counties implementing it continued to increase. He admitted the mail-in system is more costly and requires more work for his office. He estimated the previous costs associated with elections to range between $15,000 and $20,000 and is unsure what the financial impacts of the new system will be.
He also added that voter turnout has increased where the mail-in ballots have been in use. However, he said "it’s not how you vote that brings the percentage up and down, it is what is on the ballot."
"This year, the presidential year, we will have probably the largest turnout we have had in recent history," Jones said. "You won’t see the same kind of numbers that you would see in November for the primary, but it will still probably be higher."
Fewer than half went to the polls in 2014, when 10,681 ballots were cast by 44.39 percent of the electorate. During the last presidential election in 2012, 17,644 ballots were cast. At the time, Summit County had more than 26,000 registered voters.
"I wouldn’t say the other counties are seeing a drastic increase, but the percentage does tend to go up. Then it kind of tapers off the longer you use it," Jones said.
Willis Richardson, of Oakley, received his letter about the mail-in ballots on Thursday. In an interview with The Park RecordRichardson was critical of the new system.
"This is nuts," Richardson said. "I find this as an attempt to not let people vote. I was already a registered voter, but had to re-register online. It took more than 10 minutes. What about the older residents who will never make it because they don’t’ have computers? I find this upsetting. They can say it increases turnout, but I don’t trust it."
The clerk’s office said they have received several calls since the letters went out with many residents questioning the new system.
Choosing your ballot
Those affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic Party will receive ballots for the contested races in their respective parties. Unaffiliated voters will get a ballot with only the names of school board candidates in their district. There are 10,434 unaffiliated voters compared with 7,458 registered Republican and 4, 267 Democratic voters.
"In the primary election you can’t vote both sides. You have to choose one," Jones said. "If you are a registered Democrat you will get a Democrat ballot."
However, unaffiliated voters can request a particular ballot. Democrats have an open primary, allowing unaffiliated and Republican voters the opportunity to vote on the Democratic primary ballot. Affiliation changes must be made 30 days prior to the election or in the clerk’s office and the day of the election. Jones encouraged those wishing to switch to do so before the end of May. It can be done online or through the mail.
While some may also worry about the added pressure of having to keep track of their ballot once it is sent, Jones stressed that "every registered voter will get to vote."
"If someone received a ballot in the mail and they called our office two or three weeks before and said I lost it or I damaged the ballot, we would have to spoil it in our database and then send them another ballot," Jones said. "If they show up on Election Day and say, ‘I want to vote’ you either you have to turn that ballot in unvoted or you would vote a provisional ballot. We would just have to verify that we didn’t receive another ballot from you in the mail."
The new system will afford voters three ways to return their ballots. Return ballots must be postmarked the day before the election. Six drop box locations will also be strategically placed throughout the county, in addition to four voting assistance centers.
Only those who didn’t receive a ballot or have moved and received the wrong ballot are advised to use the polling locations. One center will be located in each area: North and South Summit, Park City and the Kimball Junction. Locations of the drop boxes and assistance centers will be posted on the clerk’s website after May 1.
"There are some tradeoffs, but, overall, I do think it is better system," Jones said. "Nothing has really changed, it just forces them to look at it a little sooner rather than just showing up and voting."
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