Weber elections switch to mail-in voting

May 30 2013 - 5:47am

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OGDEN -- Mail-in voting as the primary means of participating in an election may seem frightening to some people, but Weber County Elections Director Jennifer Morrell and County Clerk Ricky Hatch are determined to keep citizens informed of the benefits through educating them and making voting easier for everyone.

Two mail-in elections are set to take place in 2013: the special bond election in June for Weber County Library improvements and the Riverdale municipal election in November, which the Riverdale City Council just approved as a mail-in, to be financed by Weber County.

"What we like is the opportunity to increase the voter turnout. From a financial perspective, it is well within what has been budgeted for a normal election," Morrell said.

Increasing voter turnout is the driving factor in switching to mail-in voting. Although the overall cost of the library bond election will be more for Weber County, because a traditional vote costs around $85,000 and a by-mail vote could be anywhere from $140,000 to $153,000, the turnout is expected to be about 10 percent higher. Weber County's municipal election voter turnout from 2009 to 2012 was low at 15 percent for primaries and 22 percent for general elections.

Using these two elections as the trial runs came about in part because of other counties and states getting favorable results from mail-in voting. Duchesne County, for example, had a voter turnout of 92 percent in the November 2012 election after switching to a mail-in ballot exclusively, higher than the state's average of 70 percent. States such as Oregon and Washington have switched to mail-in voting and have turnout averages of around 80 percent for general elections and 39 percent in the primaries.

One drawback to mail-in voting is the difficulty of earning the trust of voters who fear their votes might not be counted, either through mailing errors or supposedly untrustworthy forms of vote-counting. Other voters simply think the walk-in, poll voting is the more effective way to make people care about politics, not to mention the less costly one.

"I think voting by mail is a farce. If you really want to vote, you should take your time, consider the candidates, and go vote. I think that for the elderly and people who can't leave their homes, maybe that would work, but for the general population, that won't work," Terry Busche, a Weber County resident, said.

Others feel wary of the process, even if they are willing to give it a try.

"Some people just like the traditional way of voting, that's all. They'll be able to experiement and see if it's good for them or if they would rather stick with what they're used to," Adrianna Baragas, a student at Weber State, said.

With those concerns in mind, Hatch and Morrell want to make their case clearer and their methods of counting the vote as reliable as possible.

"We have a secret ballot that the envelope is designed to preserve. We cannot access the ballot until the voter has been verified, so the vote is entered in regardless of what party. Plus, there are always at least two people present anytime that goes on, and it is verified by signature, so if we have any doubts about whether or not the voter is genuine, we will contact the person and make sure we can confirm the ballot and enter it in effectively," Hatch said.

The appeal of mail-in voting is how much easier the access can be for busy professionals and parents whose schedules conflict with poll location voting.

"It turns voting into something personal and comfortable. Moms and dads can sit down with their kids at home as they fill out their ballots, explain it to them, maybe discuss the issues, and introduce them to the process they will be undertaking when they get older. Voting is the pillar of a free society, and mail-in voting is the next platform," Hatch said.

The special bond election ballots will be mailed May 28, with the postmark deadline set for June 24, the day before the election. Ballot mailing dates are still being finalized for the November 5 Riverdale municipal general election.

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