Vote-by-mail is safe, offers many benefits
On June 25, Weber County will hold an election entirely by mail. This is the first time that a large Utah county will do so.
This doesn't need to be a scary thing, and it's not really new, either. Almost 10 percent of Weber County voters' ballots in November's presidential election were cast by mail.
Some people love vote-by-mail. Some hate it. Many don't know much about it and wonder about its pros, cons, risks and controls. So let's explore.
Pros: Increased turnout. Voting data indicate that voter turnout is usually at least 10-15 percentage points higher in all-by-mail elections. Oregon and Washington, which are completely vote-by-mail, consistently rank in the top 10 states in voter turnout. In Utah, Duchesne County, admittedly a small county, runs all-by-mail elections, and had a 92 percent turnout in November, compared to 70 percent statewide.
With all the talk about increasing voter participation, this is a big benefit.
Convenience. Voters can study the ballot at home, at their leisure, and cast their vote when they're ready. People with long commutes, difficult schedules or physical difficulties visiting a polling place, love vote-by-mail.
Better informed voters. Vote-by-mail will not instantly solve the social ill of voter apathy. It does, however, proactively give voters their ballot up to four weeks before the election, so they are more likely to read, review, and discuss it, rather than to read it for the first time in the voting booth.
Cons: Cost. Vote-by-mail costs about 30 percent more than traditional elections. This extra cost amounts to about 0.03 percent of Weber County's annual budget.
Tradition. Like many Americans, I love voting at the polls on Election Day. Vote-by-mail does not emphasize this tradition. But look at it this way: Vote-by-mail changes Election Day to Election Month. That's not a bad idea!
The risk of fraud. Of the 24 million ballots cast by mail since 2000 in Oregon, only 13 voter fraud convictions have occurred. Since 2000, Utah has seen 51 cases of election fraud, but every case involved registration fraud, not absentee ballot fraud.
Weber County has implemented controls to ensure a safe, secure, by-mail election:
• Throughout the entire process of gathering, transporting, verifying, processing and tabulating, ballots are under lock and key unless being handled by election personnel.
• No ballot is ever handled by one person alone. There are always two election workers present. Reconciliation forms ensure that no ballots are lost and that none are introduced.
• Every voter's signature is manually compared to the signature in the state voter database. If signatures don't match, we contact the voter.
• The return envelopes are specially designed to preserve the secrecy of the ballot. They prevent election workers from accessing the ballot during the voter verification process. Only when we begin the ballot scanning do we open the envelope that contains the ballot. Ballots don't have any markings that identify the voter.
• The computer system that tabulates election results is stored in a locked room and is not connected to any network or to the Internet.
Vote Centers offer traditional voting. Voters can also drop off their ballots at any center before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25.
Whether you like vote-by-mail or not, your county election team will keep your ballot safe, secure and secret.
Ricky Hatch has served as Weber County's clerk/auditor since 2010.