LAYTON -- Despite the potential for greater voter turnout, city officials are reluctant to implement a vote-by-mail initiative this election cycle.
City Recorder Thieda Wellman used a recent city council work session to outline a possible vote-by-mail program this election cycle. She said the program could raise turnout level among registered voters from current 25 percent levels to as high as 50 to 60 percent.
City leaders listened to the proposal but were slow to embrace it.
Costs of the initiative would be partially subsidized by Davis County, Wellman said. She said city elections cost $31,000 last year and estimated a change to voting by mail could cost as much as $70,000.
However, she said the county would subsidize the approach this year as a means of testing the impact of the initiative.
Ballots would be mailed out to eligible voters 28 days before the election, Wellman said.
The approach has worked well in other states, she said.
"It could change the dynamics of an election," Wellman said of the potential turnout.
Despite the promise, the short lead time to implement the vote-by-mail system worried some council members.
Councilman Jory Francis, who has announced he will run for mayor this year, described the possible change as an "earthquake shift" and said there simply isn't enough time before an anticipated Aug. 13 primary to make it work.
"I struggle with making such a huge paradigm shift in a short period of time. This is a fundamental right that we have to vote, and that's a lot of tampering," Francis said.
He said implementing the system for the primary would almost be impossible and would leave candidates only six weeks to campaign before ballots were in the mail.
"To radically change the way we vote in six weeks is just too much," Francis said.
Councilman Michael Bouwhuis, who is also expected to make a bid for the mayoral spot, said the city can't keep changing its voting setup.
"If you are going to change behavior and do it that way, stay with it," he said.
State leaders have asked counties in Utah to study the merits of a vote-by-mail approach by 2015, and county leaders have generally passed that challenge onto individual communities.
To date, no community in Davis County has voted to implement the change this election year.