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Disaster voting

Published November 3, 2012 1:01 am

Utah law needs more flexibility
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No matter who wins the many election contests before the voters Tuesday, a fair number of Utahns, and maybe half the population of the United States, will consider it a disaster.

But what Utah needs, and what a few state officials are rightly considering, is some legal flexibility so that the state could deal with an election that was disrupted by an actual disaster. Say a series of wildfires that were even worse than those many parts of Utah suffered through over the summer. Or the earthquake that state and local officials have long anticipated in the construction upgrades they have paid for on everything from local schools to the State Capitol.

A seismic refit of a public building allows some give in a structure so that it does not collapse in a minor temblor. But the Utah Constitution provides no such wiggle room:

"Article IV, Section 9. (1) Each general election shall be held on the Tuesday next following the first Monday in November of each even-numbered year."

So there.

The Constitution of the United States is not so firm. It gives each state the power to set its own election day for members of Congress, with the proviso that Congress may step in and prescribe its own rules. Which it did not do until 1845, when it set the familiar first Tuesday after the first Monday that voters are so familiar with.

After superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast the other day, there was some talk of the election being postponed, at least in the states most affected. It now appears that a delay will not be necessary, although the continued power outages may make the process a lot more complicated, and the results a lot longer in coming.

Any provision in Utah law allowing the Legislature, the governor or any local official to postpone an election in response to a fire, storm or other natural or man-made disaster would require an amendment to the state constitution. And federal cooperation. State Rep. Kraig Powell, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, has pledged to take on the challenge in the 2013 legislative session.

Ideally, lawmakers will view the issue practically, with no thought to giving either political party an advantage. And, although the Legislature couldn't resist the urge to gerrymander Utah's congressional districts, it is possible that a system for rescheduling elections, or otherwise making allowances for days when most people won't be able to get to the polls, could be practical rather than partisan.

Meanwhile, it's another reason for Utahns to vote early, or by mail, as current law allows.






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