Permanent vote by mail
A year ago I wrote an op-ed column for The Tribune that invigorated the discussion of Utah's party caucus/convention system for nominating political candidates, and I'm encouraged by renewed interest in this topic.
I believe voters have acquired a better understanding of the importance of this grassroots process and the significant role they and their neighbors play in it.
However, more participation in the caucus system is not, by itself, enough to increase public confidence in our elections.
Over the past decade, Utah has languished in participation in primaries (17.8 percent average) and general elections (58.3 percent). To build public confidence we must find a way to increase primary and general election participation as well.
I believe Permanent Vote-By-Mail will help accomplish this goal. Let me explain.
As the Salt Lake County Republican Party chairman in 2009, I was concerned that in several races each Election Day, Republican candidates were ahead until PVBM ballots were counted, then they lost. I discovered that county Democrats had a four-year head start on us in PVBM registration, and voters registered this way were 2-3 times more likely to vote.
The good news was that the Democrats had expended this advantage, so any effort I put into PVBM was going to produce clear results for me, one way or the other.
The county Republican Party then put a lot of energy into PVBM, registering over 45,000 Republicans in strategic locations and, on Election Day 2010, reclaimed every close race we had previously been losing.
When I was elected state party chairman and became involved at the statewide level, I noticed the public's discomfort with an election process they felt may not always represent them.
The question now was, do I game the next several election cycles by registering even more Republicans to Vote-By-Mail, winning even more elections, or do I propose a solution that benefits all voters in the state, including unaffiliated voters, hoping a surging PVBM tide renews public confidence in the election process?
I researched the impact of moving to PVBM in states that had adopted it (Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington) and in the 24 states allowing No Excuse Absentee Voting. The common benefits were:
1. Time at home to make good election decisions.
2. No worry about when and where to vote.
3. No waiting in line, sometimes for hours.
4. No polling place anxiety or intimidation.
5. No need to take time off from work or family.
6. No worries about difficult-to-use or malfunctioning voting equipment.
7. No need to hire and train poll workers and polling location security staff.
8. Increased election process integrity through digital signature verification.
9. Increased voter turnout.
10. Increased voter satisfaction with the election process.
Based on this research and first-hand observation, I believe Utah voters should have the opportunity to register to Permanently Vote-By-Mail and still retain their right to go to the polls on Election Day if they wish.
To this end I am asking my legislators to explore Permanent Vote-By-Mail, to determine its pros and cons and costs.
Hopefully their research will confirm my observations, allowing more voters to participate and increase their satisfaction with the election process.
Thomas Wright is chairman of the Utah Republican Party.
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