This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Many Utahns already vote by mail rather than trek to a polling place on Election Day. A bill now before the Legislature would prepare the way for Utah to take the plunge into statewide elections conducted entirely by mail, or nearly so. That would be an excellent way to increase voter participation.
That's because the greater convenience of mail-in ballots leads to much higher voter turnout. Oregon has run its elections this way for a decade, and its voter participation rates are among the highest in the nation. Utah's, by contrast, are among the worst.
Even in Utah, those areas that conduct voting by mail have much higher turnout. In Box Elder County, where mail-in voting is used in precincts with fewer than 500 voters, the participation is about 75 percent, according to Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, the bill's sponsor. By contrast, conventional statewide voting rates are about 33 percent.
HB172 would instruct the lieutenant governor, in consultation with local election officers, to study how to administer an election in which all registered voters would receive a ballot in the mail. The voter could either fill out the ballot and mail it back to the election office or mark the ballot in person at an early voting polling place. People who wanted to observe the tradition of voting on Election Day could do that by turning in their ballots at a polling place.
Presumably, however, there would be far fewer polling places on Election Day. That would save money and help to pay the costs of voting by mail. One of the purposes of the study would be to determine the price of optical scanners to count mail-in ballots and the cost of postage.
The study would be conducted beginning this year, with an eye to holding an actual all-mail election in 2015. That is a municipal election year, so the switch to widespread mail-in ballots would occur there first rather than in a much larger general election.
Concerns about voter fraud are easily addressed in Oregon, and Utah officials say fraud is prevented now by comparing signatures on mail-in ballots with voter records.
Eventually, voting might move from paper ballots delivered by the Postal Service to secure websites. That could be another subject of the study.
The advantages of elections by mail are obvious. Voters do not have to contend with schedule conflicts or bad weather. They don't have to stand in line. They can consider their choices at their leisure.
It's time for Utah to make elections more convenient and, by increasing turnout, more democratic.