On Tuesday, Representative Steve Eliason (Republican – Sandy) presented HB 12 – Disposition of Ballots Amendments to the House for consideration – sparking some surprising responses from some lawmakers.
The bill would charge county clerks with reaching out to those who chose to vote by mail, but due to various circumstances, did not have their ballot counted (what is known as “spoiling the ballot”). Though there are many reasons a ballot may be spoiled, the most common reason a spoil may occur is because the clerk can not verify that the signature on the ballot matches the signature on file.
In previous years, these spoiled ballots would simply collect dust and not be counted – some clerks were proactive and attempted to reach out to voters to inform them of the error, but no legal requirement is in place to do so. HB 12 would change this by requiring that clerks reach out via email or text message within a day of the spoil, or within two days by mail if no cell phone or email information is provided. Presuming that the information is received before the election, the voter can then come in and correct the offending information – thereby ensuring their vote has been properly counted.
And the number of spoiled ballots from this last election show just how widespread the issue is. According to Eliason, nearly 16,700 ballots in Salt Lake County were not counted because the Salt Lake County Clerk simply could not verify that the ballot was accurate. The stories were similar in Davis (3,000 ballots), Cache (1,600 ballots), and Summit Counties (1,500 ballots), which Eliason used as just a brief example.
Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper) used the discussion of HB 12 to express general frustration with the mechanics of the 2016 election. Specifically, Christensen focused on the lack of physical polling locations due to an overreliance on vote-by-mail in Salt Lake County and the legal roadblocks to actually setting up more polling locations so close to the election. Though Christensen supported the bill, he saw it only as a small part of overall election reform, stating that the status quo regarding elections has “compromised everything and is systematic.”
Christensen, no doubt, is particularly sensitive to ensuring that all votes are counted, having won his election by a mere three votes last November.
Representative Derrin Owens (Republican – Fountain Green) wondered aloud if the clerks should have to be forced to take the time to reach out to voters. “If someone makes two or three or four mistakes, I don’t know if I want them voting…if our citizens can’t handle [submitting a ballot] appropriately on the first attempt, in my opinion, and their ballot is rejected, I am not sure we should be hiring more clerks or putting the pressure on our voting staff to go back and notify them. If a spouse signed anther spouses ticket, they just nullified it – I’m not sure it should count. ” Ownes told the body before ultimately voting in favor of the bill. “I guess I don’t have the heartburn if your ballot was rejected at your error, it shouldn’t count.”
Representative Francis Gibson (Republican – Mapleton), who also happens to be the Majority Whip in the House, mildly scolded the body, noting that they “spent 42 minutes on a bill that got 70 plus votes” adding that that doesn’t seem bad at the start of the session, but it becomes a problem near the end of the session. Indeed, a common complaint among the general public is that the legislature spends too much time debating less controversial issues and not enough on drastic policy changes.