***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
“The West Jordan City election” was Representative Jim Bird’s blunt and straightforward response when asked why he was proposing HB 252 – Absentee Ballot Amendments.
Bird, the Republican from West Jordan, was upset that last year’s municipal election was conducted only through mail-in ballots and is concerned about the repercussions of only allowing elections to take place this way.
“Ballots are mailed out to a voters last known address and we have the problem that the the person may or may not be there to receive the ballot,” Bird said in an interview Monday, “The ballot shows up, the ‘voter’ returns the ballot, and the county [clerk] verifies the signature to ensure that the vote is valid.” By having to present a signature, and to then have it validated, Bird contends, disregards the idea of secret balloting on elections.
HB 252 would eliminate this concern. Citizens would still have the option of receiving mail-only ballots, but cities, counties, or theoretically the state, could not engage in the practice of holding mail-only elections.
West Jordan residents did have the option to return their mail-in ballot at two physical polling locations and opt instead to vote at a traditional polling booth, but their original mail-in ballot would be considered “spoiled” and the voter would receive what is known as a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots require greater examination by county clerks, as a clerk would have to confirm that the resident is at the correct address, is registered to vote at that address, and is who they say they are through the signature on the provisional ballot form (though the anonymity of the vote cast would still remain in tact).
Salt Lake City was one of the first to experiment with mail-only voting when they asked their citizens if the city should adopt an ordinance to endorse Move To Amend, a nationwide grassroots organization working to overturn the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Bird admits that voter participation was up in West Jordan City last year, most likely as a result of the more convenient form of voting. Bird also concedes that costs were down as a result of the mail-only election. West Jordan received a voter participation rate of more than 34 percent, the highest-ever rate for that type of election. Likewise, Salt Lake City saw a 24 percent participation rate in their Citizens United ballot question, an extremely high number considering that no other elections were taking place at that time.
“How much do we want to save by giving up secret ballots?” Bird asks.
Lawmakers will debate this question during the 2014 legislative session. Traditionally, policymakers have shied away from polices that make voting more convenient – though that trend has started to shift in recent years. The fate of HB 252 is far from clear this legislative session.
To contact Representative Bird, click here or call 801-280-9056.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker