Group calls for changes in wake of mail-in ballot dispute

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

The Alliance for a Better Utah urged lawmakers to change the state’s election law to ensure ballots from rural Utahns are counted.

The group’s call came two days after the lieutenant governor disqualified 64 ballots in a House race that were postmarked on primary election day.

Current state law requires all mail-in ballots to be postmarked a day before the election. But, particularly in rural Utah, ballots dropped off one day are frequently shipped to Salt Lake City and postmarked the following day.

In House District 53, where Logan Wilde beat longtime Rep. Mel Brown by nine votes, 64 disputed ballots from Morgan, Rich, Summit and Duchesne counties with postmarks on primary election day — June 28 — were not counted, despite protests from Brown, who argued the voters would be disenfranchised if they were not tallied.

Because the ballots were never opened, there is no way to know how the votes may have affected the outcome of that contest.

The lieutenant governor’s office said it had warned lawmakers for several years that the law had the potential to cause problems in the election. Because there was no way to know whether the ballots were dropped off on primary day or before, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox ruled that none of the ballots could be counted.

“As our state increasingly moves toward vote by mail as a primary form of voting, we need to make sure the process is simple and accessible to every citizen,” said Rachel Sanders, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah. “Just as tax returns can be postmarked as late as tax day, mail-in ballots should be accepted if postmarked on election day. No voter should ever feel their voice is not being heard.”

Brian Sperry, Utah spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the ballots should have been postmarked if they were received in time.

“Election ballots that are deposited in a collection box prior to the last posted collection time anywhere in the state — rural or city — would receive a postmark that day,” he said. “The Postal Service recommends mailing ballots early to account for any unforeseen events or weather issues and to allow for timely receipt by election officials.”

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said the issue will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee, on which she serves as co-chairwoman.

“That’s a real disappointment for anybody who has voted and their vote doesn’t count, but I don’t know how else it can be resolved because of the concern and question and lack of ability to validate the timing of those ballots,” she said. “It’s most disappointing, but I think the lieutenant governor’s office has handled it as well as it can.”

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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