OGDEN — Voting for the June 30 primary will be different than in years past, and Weber County Elections Office officials are trying to get the word out to the public.
Notably, officials here and across the state are trying to get as many voters as possible to vote using mail-in ballots. There will be no early, in-person voting in the days preceding June 30, and on Election Day itself, officials here are planning only a drive-through operation meant to get ballots to those who don’t have them. There won’t be a traditional in-person, walk-in voting site as in years past, according to Ryan Cowley, head of the Weber County Election Office.
The changes, contemplated in House Bill 3006, approved by Utah lawmakers last month during a special legislative session, are meant to guard against the spread of coronavirus via in-person voting, according to Cowley. His office recently sent a flier out to voters outlining the changes, effective only for the June 30 primary. His office’s goal “is to try to get every voter a ballot,” Cowley said.
For now, Cowley’s focus is on encouraging voters to register and to update their address and information on file to make sure they get a ballot, which will hit mailboxes starting around June 9. The last day to register to vote or update your voter registration information is June 19. In years past, voters could register up to and on Election Day.
Cowley said officials are considering the Weber County Fairgrounds site in Ogden for the Election Day drive-through operation. Details are still being worked out, but voters will remain in their cars per the tentative plan and election officials will print their ballots. Voters will then fill them out and leave them in a ballot dropbox.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah lauded the state’s relatively early implementation of mail-in voting, giving it a leg up on other states launching the voting method for the first time this cycle due to COVID-19 worries.
“But it’s not necessarily accessible to everyone,” said Nikila Venugopal, voter rights coordinator for the ACLU in the state. The ACLU worries the focus on mail-in balloting will disproportionately disenfranchise lower-income voters, those needing language assistance and those with disabilities, among others.
Use of mobile voting options like the drive-through operation planned for Weber County is a step in the right direction. But the ACLU also calls for prepaid mail-in ballots so voters don’t have to buy a stamp to vote, among other things. Notably, the U.S. Postal Service has said it will deliver ballots even if they don’t have a stamp, Venugopal said, and the ACLU is trying to spread word of that policy.
Representatives from the Disability Law Center have also expressed concern that those with sight impairment or impaired motor skills may not be as adept at handling mail-in ballots as others, Cowley said. As such, he’s been in touch with the organization to come up with accommodations to assist the disabled.
“In speaking to county clerks over recent weeks, I sense that as a group, they want to serve these voters. They are coming up with different plans based on the individual circumstances in each county,” said Shari Newton, voting access program director in Utah for the Disability Law Center.
Cowley is mindful that things will be different for voters this primary, but his office is working to get word out about the changes. He also noted that the vast majority of voters are already familiar with the mail-in system, with 95% of voters using the method to cast their ballots in prior elections.
“I still feel there’s a lot of opportunity,” Cowley said.
How voting is handled in the Nov. 3 general election has yet to be determined. “I think we’re not quite sure what will happen,” Venugopal said.
A shift in how Election Day voting was handled in Weber County during the March 3 U.S. presidential primary miffed some. Cowley’s office opened only one location for in-person balloting, Union Station in Ogden, instead of several as in prior elections, surprising and confusing some.
Weber County is one of a minority of counties that will have the drive-through voting facility on June 30, allowed per provisions of HB3006. Other counties will only have mail-in balloting.