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Lawmakers are showing little enthusiasm for changing the deadline for posting by-mail ballots, even though confusion prevented counting 70 ballots in the House District 53 GOP primary race that was decided by just nine votes.
Those 70 ballots were postmarked on Election Day, but Utah rules require a postmark the day before the election.
Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, who lost the race to Morgan County Council Chairman Logan Wilde, had argued the ballots in rural areas were likely mailed the day before the election, but were not postmarked until a day later after they had been sent to Salt Lake City for processing.
"No matter when we set the deadline, there are going to be people who miss that deadline and still want to have their vote counted, and we're going to be back here discussing the same thing," Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said during a discussion this week at interim meetings of the Legislature.
Legislative analysts said Utah is one of just six states that require a postmark the day before Election Day.
Thirty-four states require receiving by-mail ballots on Election Day to be counted. Utah and Illinois have the latest deadline, allowing ballots to arrive up to 14 days after the election and still be counted.
Government Operations Interim Committee Co-Chairman Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, polled its members after the discussion to see how many would like to pursue changing deadlines and found the vast majority opposed it.
That came after Darrel Stoke, Salt Lake District manager for the U.S. Postal Service, testified that people in rural areas may ask employees at their local Post Offices to hand-stamp their by-mail ballots the day before the election to ensure they have a proper postmark.
"I don't think a lot of people know that," Draxler said.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, argued many voters also don't realize state law requires them to mail ballots the day before the election even though instructions that come with by-mail ballots say that.
"The average voter still thinks they can vote on Election Day," she said.
But Greene said, "There is proper notice on the ballots. So I am not sympathetic to those who miss the deadline on mail-in voting any more than I feel the need to create leniency for those who show up at the [in-person] polling place five minutes after it closes."
He added that giving mail-in voters their ballots three weeks in advance of Election Day "really kind of off-sets the need for any leniency after the fact."
While the committee chose not to pursue changing deadlines, it did vote to draft a bill to require counties that conduct elections entirely by mail to offer special drop boxes where people could deliver ballots on Election Day.
Salt Lake County already does that, for example, and some states require at least one drop box for every 30,000 residents and at least two per county.
Lawmakers said while counties can choose to do that now, requiring it would provide more consistency and understanding in the state.