Water Rights, Mountain Megas, Western Climate Initiative
December 17, 2008
Ethics, Generations in the Workplace, Elections
November 19, 2008
Government Employment, Health System Reform, Presidential Elections
October 29, 2008
Health System Reform, Hospital Transparency
September 24, 2008
HB40, Transparency in Government, Nonprofits & Elections
August 27, 2008
Casting a Ballot
In the 2009 legislative session, there are several bills
that have been proposed relating to election administration. Many of these bills are designed to make
elections more efficient in administration and management, which is especially
important in the current economic situation.
In 2009, many local governments will be holding elections and making
sure these elections are conducted as efficiently as possible will be important
for cash-strapped local governments.
In a recent study of local election officials in Utah conducted
jointly by the Institute of Public and International Affairs at the University
of Utah and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham
Young University, we found that local governments face unique challenges
running elections in the current environment.
First, we found that not all jurisdictions are equal in their ability to
carry out election reforms. Most of our
municipalities in Utah have small populations and their town governments have
administrative capacities that are small, which is appropriate for the
communities that they serve.
Second, election reforms for Utah cities and towns should
provide these communities with options and should recognize the differences in
population and administrative capacity that exist between a town and a first-class
city. Two weeks of early voting is
probably unnecessary for a town with 400 registered voters but a city of
100,000 may need such voting. Likewise,
vote-by-mail may be quite helpful in some jurisdictions but not in others.
Local and Special
One bill that addresses this issue head on is the Local and Special Service District Election Amendments
bill (HB44), which would allow local districts and special service districts to
conduct elections solely by absentee ballot.
This type of election is almost always a low-turn out affair, yet local
governments are required to run them as if they were presidential elections,
recruiting poll workers, sending absentee ballots to permanent absentee voters,
printing ballots, and opening polling places for the elections. This legislation would streamline the process
and allow local and special service districts to simply mail an absentee ballot
to all voters in the district and allowing those voters who are interested to
vote. There is a similar bill, Coordinating Municipal and Special District
Elections (HB43), that provides for polling places for local district and
special service districts to be combined with municipal general election
polling places whenever possible. This,
too, will increase efficiency of these special district elections.
This bill also has a very important informational component;
some voters live in special service districts but may not be aware of it. By sending voters an absentee ballot, these
citizens will become more aware of the governments that serve them and may
increase their interest in participating in these elections.
The Ballot Questions
Amendments bill (HB48) is designed to bring clear language to the ballot by
requiring that all ballot questions—initiatives or referenda—that are put to
the voters have a title that is not more than 75 words long. Ballot initiatives and referenda are often
skipped by voters; clear use of language and shorter titles may address this
problem, in part. In addition,
litigation often results when referenda are confusing; shorter titles may force
sponsors to write more clearly. One way
to improve this legislation would be to have a random group of registered
voters—chosen from the voter rolls—read proposed referenda before it is put on
the ballot to ensure that it is written in a style that is understandable to
the average voter instead of in “legalese”.
The Early Voting
Amendments bill (SB24) will repeal the requirement that first class cities
provide at least one early voting location within each state Senate
district. Early voting was very popular
in Utah in 2008 and it is likely to grow in popularity. However, it may not make sense to have an
early voting location in every state Senate district. Early voters are often voting on their way to work, during a
lunch hour, on the way home, or as they complete a set of errands in their
day. This means that early voting
locations should be thought of as a type of retail experience and should be put
in highly trafficked locations to increase voter convenience.
There are two issues that should be considered in this
legislation. First, although it may
make sense to more carefully think about the location of early voting sites,
the state may want to continue to require each county to have the same number
or more early voting locations equal to the number of Senate districts in the county. Given the popularity of early voting, if a
county lowers the number of early voting sites it may cause very long lines at
remaining locations and also increase the number of election-day voters and the
problems that can occur on election day.
Second, the legislation does not address an existing problem
with early voting, which is the requirement that local governments—regardless
of size—operate early voting locations.
Small jurisdictions—4th and 5th class cities and
towns—are the predominate jurisdictions in Utah and are quite small yet they
have to operate early voting like a first class city, even though many of these
jurisdictions are not even open full-time for normal municipal services. Addressing the needs of municipal
governments could enhance this legislation.
One innovative bill—based on innovations in several Western
states—is the Online Voter Registration
bill (SB25). It would allow the Lt.
Governor to create an online voter registration system. This bill will make voter registration
easier but also improve efficiency and accuracy by pulling information from
other state online databases—like state driver license information—for the
purpose of registration. This system
builds on requirements in the Help America Vote Act, which require voter
registration information to be checked against driver license records and other
data to verify the veracity of the registration.
The Voter Challenge Amendments
bill (HB49) would require that voter challenges be filed prior to the
election. Challenging voters will still
be allowed but the challenges will have to be filed prior to the election and
be serious in nature, not frivolous.
This pre-election process will improve the efficiency of the challenge
process, ensuring that an ineligible voter is prevented from voting before the
election. Also, given the pressure that
exists on poll workers on election day just to implement the election, having
polling places free of confrontations between challengers and voters will
likely improve the atmosphere in the polling place.
[PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION]
There are no letters for this article. To post your own letter, click Post Letter.