Provo leaders are considering an idea that will change the way most people vote and how and when candidates campaign — mail-in voting.
Earlier this month city recorder Janene Weiss gave the council details of voting by mail and the pros and cons. Now the council is considering the change and is set to make a decision early next month.
Mayor John Curtis told the council he thinks if the city insists on holding to traditional voting, it’s in danger of losing younger voters. “I feel strongly it’s a move in the right direction,” he said.
How it works
Twenty-eight days before Election Day, the ballot-printing company would send out ballots to registered voters. If a person registered after that time but before the registration deadline, they would still get a ballot — it would just arrive later.
Each mailed ballot would include a postage-paid envelope for voters to mail back. The envelope would have a signature line for voters that election workers would compare with voter registration records to prevent voter fraud, and if the signature is blank or doesn’t match, the vote won’t count. The envelope would have a flap to cover the signature so that wouldn’t be exposed during mailing, Weiss said.
Each ballot also would have a number that voters can use to track online whether the ballot has been received, she said.
All ballots would need to be postmarked the day before Election Day. Or they could be dropped in boxes set up for ballots.
And Provo’s mail-in voting program likely wouldn’t have only mail-in ballots. Weiss said there still would be at least one and probably two voting centers where people could vote on Election Day if they didn’t like voting by mail.
But if you want to vote on Election Day and not by mail, you would have to surrender your mailed ballot to a poll worker before voting. If you didn’t have it with you, you could still vote by provisional ballot but that wouldn’t be counted until the city could verify your voter information was accurate and that you also hadn’t voted by mail.
Weiss said if the city decides to do mail-in voting, it would need to send out a notice to voters about what was happening in advance of the election.
Mail-in voting likely would increase voter turnout. In West Jordan, which started mail-in voting in 2013, the voter turnout was 35 percent; in 2011, it was 15 percent. West Jordan’s population is similar in size to Provo, though it lacks the major student population. Provo’s voter turnout in 2013 was 14 percent.
It will give people more time to study their ballots. “This gives them an opportunity to have the ballot right in their hands to study issues and candidates” well before Election Day, she said. That might reduce the number of calls Weiss gets before Election Day — or even on the day itself — from voters who have no idea what’s on the ballot.
Mail-in voting would eliminate the need for most poll workers, saving some money. Because the city would still have one or two voting sites, there would need to be some poll workers. And Weiss said she would need temporary workers in her office to help with the mailed in ballots. Poll workers in Utah County make $100 for the day.
It also would eliminate concerns of bad weather on Election Day, which lowers voter turnout.
Cost is the big con for Provo. Though West Jordan saved $24,000 in 2013 by switching to mailed-in ballots, it almost would double Provo’s election costs. That’s because West Jordan contracts with Salt Lake County for elections, and that county charges more than Utah County. It also pays its poll workers more.
The cost difference might not be so much in the future, though. Weiss said the county is considering increasing its poll worker payments. And it could charge cities more for election services in the future.
“I think we’re getting what we’re paying for,” said Curtis, referring to county election services at the Feb. 3 meeting.
Another concern is voter fraud, but Weiss said there’s been little evidence of voter fraud in mail-in elections. There are 19 cities in the state doing mailed-in ballots, and zero cases of mail-in voter fraud.
Critics also say mail-in ballots mean more ballot mistakes by voters. Weiss said studies have shown voters make fewer errors on mailed-in ballots, and there’s time to request a new ballot if you do make a mistake.
The council wants to hear from residents before it makes a decision. There are five comments on its blog post, and all are in favor of mail-in voting.
There are seven comments on the mayor’s blog post about voting by mail, and six are in favor. The seventh commenter prefers voting in person. On Curtis’s Facebook post about the issue, many of the commenters liked the idea but voter fraud was a concern they mentioned.
If you want to let the council know what you think, go to provocitycouncil.blogspot.com.