Editorial: Give mail-in voters one more day

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

One consequence of mail-in voting is that the act of democratic participation has a new and important partner, the U.S. Postal Service.

And it’s a good partner. The ease of having a postal worker pick up ballots — and take them where they need to go to be counted — has reversed Utah’s long decline in voter participation. A report on last year’s municipal elections from the Utah Foundation found that all 70 cities that used mail-in voting saw an increase in participation, and the average increase in participation statewide was 52 percent.

Having the people who won’t let rain, sleet or snow stop them from getting the ballots to county clerks is a turning point, but it still lacks the certainty of voters showing up and having an election judge hand them ballots. No one is going to tell a mail-in voter it’s too late to vote.

One legislative race in Morgan, Rich, Summit and Duchesne counties has put a spotlight on that. In House District 53, rancher Logan Wilde squeaked past incumbent Rep. Mel Brown in the June primary to claim the Republican nomination.

The final margin was nine votes, but there were 64 ballots that had an election-day postmark and weren’t counted. Would those 64 votes have changed the election? One would have to believe that the last-minute voters leaned one way more than another, but it wouldn’t be impossible. We’ll never know because the ballots were disqualified before they were counted.

The lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections in Utah, made the right call in not counting the ballots. The day-before-election-day postmark is the current legal requirement. But the Alliance for a Better Utah is also right to call for extending the deadline to include Election-Day postmarks.

For what it’s worth, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service says if the ballots hit a mailbox before the last pickup of the day, they should have the postmark from that day. That should be just as true in Henefer as it is in Salt Lake City.

Still, just like at Christmas, the U.S. Postal Service has familiar advice for voters: Mail early to avoid the rush.

There’s a practical side to requiring that early postmark, particularly for those of us who deliver election news. Even the ones postmarked the day before the election may not be part of the results released on election night. Allowing one more day for mail-in ballots will increase the chances that the late votes may actually change results announced that night.

But it’s just one day, and it’s a rather important one: Election Day. Let’s err on the side of increasing participation. Change the law to count election-day postmarked ballots.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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