Postal Service sends wrong info about Utah by-mail voting

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Mail-in ballots for the 2016 General Election are shown at the elections ballot center at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Nov. 1, 2016.

In a move that may not do anything to bolster public confidence in the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle ballots this year, the service sent some erroneous information to Utah voters about the upcoming election.

The office of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, which oversees elections in Utah, said the Postal Service mailed a postcard to Utah homes last week urging voters “to request your mail-in ballot … at least 15 days before Election Day.”

That is unnecessary in Utah, Cox’s office said in a statement. “All active registered voters in Utah automatically receive their ballots in the mail. Individuals do not need to request a mail-in ballot separately if they have previously registered to vote.”

In many other states, by-mail or absentee ballots must be requested — but not here.

For the Nov. 3 general election, Utahns may cast their vote in one of four ways: through the mail, by depositing their ballot at special drop boxes offered by many county clerks, at an in-person early voting location, or at an in-person or drive-up voting center on Election Day.

However, Utah election officials are strongly encouraging methods other than voting on Election Day itself to reduce crowds then. They have urged using that option only to solve such late problems as losing a ballot.

Of note, the Postal Service has also urged Utah voters to return by-mail ballots a week before Election Day to help ensure they arrive on time. But that also is more important in other states that sometimes require ballots to be received by Election Day in order to be counted. In Utah, they must be received only sometime before the official canvass two weeks after Election Day so long as they are postmarked on time.

“We encourage voters to plan ahead by going to vote.utah.gov to check their registration status, register to vote, or update their address,” the statement from Cox’s office said.

Also at vote.utah.gov, voters will be able to check when their ballot was mailed to them, and whether it has been received and processed by their county clerk. They will also be able to see on that site informational materials submitted by candidates and groups pushing or opposing ballot initiatives.

County clerks are required to mail ballots to all active registered voters the week of Oct. 13. Voters have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 23 to register to vote and automatically receive a mail ballot.

Voting by mail — and whether the Postal Service can handle it — has been controversial this year.

President Donald Trump continually says that by-mail voting would make this year’s election “the most inaccurate and fraudulent in history.” Earlier this year he said that if states convert to by-mail voting, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump continued his attack on by-mail voting at a Nevada rally over the weekend, including saying, “The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it.”

However, Utah election officials say they have used by-mail voting for years without problems — but it is the only heavily Republican state to have done so, while most other by-mail state have leaned Democratic.

Also, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told Sen. Mitt Romney in a recent congressional hearing that he’s “extremely, highly confident” about on-time delivery of ballots if all Americans will mail their ballots a week before Election Day.

DeJoy, a Trump megadonor, has come under intense scrutiny for new work rules he imposed, including halting overtime and ordering some excess mail left in post offices to keep delivery on schedule. In the face of backlash over worries those rules could delay election ballots and disenfranchise some voters, DeJoy suspended those changes until after the election.