Only about a quarter of the registered voters in Syracuse and Sunset cast ballots in the 2011 municipal election.
Officials in both cities want to do better. So for this year’s general election, they’re replacing polling places with a vote-by-mail-only system — a move they believe will boost voter participation.
Syracuse City Recorder Cassie Brown said that at least 48 percent of the electorate in Oregon and Washington have sent in their ballots in all-mail elections in those states.
“I’d like to double or triple our numbers,” she said.
Duchesne County saw a jump in its turnout last year when it shifted to a vote-by-mail-only election. In 2008, about 58 percent of registered voters in the small county voted in the presidential election. In 2012, nearly 83 percent cast ballots in the presidential race.
In the 2011 municipal election, about 27 percent of Sunset’s nearly 2,000 registered voters and 22 percent of Syracuse’s approximately 13,300 voters cast ballots.
Syracuse City Council members came to a consensus recently to have a mail-only vote for the Nov. 5 general election. A few weeks later, the Sunset City Council voted 3-2 to have all-mail votes at both the primary in Aug. 13, if there is a need for one, and the general election.
A mail election costs more because of postage, ballot and envelope expenses. The Davis County Clerk/Auditor’s Department will not charge this fall for its work verifying signatures and tabulating votes; those costs would kick in for subsequent elections if the cities stick with all-mail voting.
Sunset Councilman Ryan Furniss, who voted against the switch, said his city could end up paying an additional $1,600 for an election. He also cited concerns about the possibility of fraud and privacy violations.
Furniss gave as an example someone going to an apartment complex on the day ballots are delivered and grabbing a bunch of them. And he worried about the possibility of county workers seeing which ballot an individual voter cast when they verify signatures.
“I think the best way to vote is to go to your polling place with your ID in hand,” Furniss said.
He added that with mail-only balloting, candidates no longer will be able to have poll watchers keeping an eye out for irregularities.
But Sunset Mayor Chad Bangerter says the mail election will make it easier for residents to vote and that the county has safeguards in place to protect privacy.
“This has been going on for years,” the mayor said of mail balloting.
Davis County Elections Director Pat Beckstead said clerks compare the signature on the outside of the envelopes that hold a ballot with the signature on the voter’s registration form. After verification, the envelopes are opened and put aside so there’s no way to connect a ballot with a voter, she said.
Every envelope is checked and if there signature doesn’t match, another ballot is sent out. If it’s too late to mail a new ballot, a worker will call the phone number on record and ask the voter to come to the office. All ballots must be postmarked by election day and must be received by the times the election results are certified seven to 14 days after the election.
Beckstead said the county would like to reach the point where one-third of voters vote early, one-third vote on election day and one-third vote by mail.
“We feel very confident with this system,” she said, adding that “voting by mail isn’t anything new.”