Commentary: The right to vote is key to democracy

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune People line up at the Salt Lake County Building on election day Tuesday Nov. 8 in Salt Lake City to vote before work. Lines were long but moving steady. The wait was less than 30 minutes to vote.

Winston Churchill famously quipped on the floor of British House of Commons in November 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

His assessment is as true to today as it was then. Representative democracy, while imperfect and messy, is still the best system of governance we have.

And essential to our democracy is the right to vote. While it’s the very thing that can make democracy so messy, it’s also the thing that makes it supreme.

The vote empowers the people by offering protection – protection from being voiceless in our government and protection of democracy itself.

With that context, ensuring the right to vote and also protecting the security and integrity of the voting system should be fundamental to the work of every democratically elected official.

It is fundamental to my work as a state legislator.

During the 2018 General Legislative Session, I co-sponsored H.B. 218, “Modifications to the Election Law.” This bill – which has now been signed into law – provides much-needed modernizations to Utah’s election law, including new safeguards to our voting system and reforms to make election-related transactions more convenient for eligible voters.

One of the ways H.B. 218 reforms the voting process involves the Utah Driver License Division. Now, while completing a licensing transaction, eligible citizens may choose whether they would like to register to vote. They can also elect to keep their voter registration record private and choose a party affiliation, or none at all.

Information for new registrants – or address updates for people who have already registered – is then digitally transferred to county election officials, who verify the information and then make the necessary updates to the voter rolls.

This process, called “Automatic Voter Registration,” has a number of positive benefits for our election administration. It makes our voter rolls more accurate and the process vastly more efficient.

The new registration and re-registration processes automatically remove incorrect addresses from the voter rolls. By tying the voting registration process to the driver licensing transactions, we streamline bureaucratic procedures and virtually eliminate data entry errors.

With greater accuracy of the rolls, there is less potential for fraud or interference. When our voter rolls are more accurate, our systems are more secure and less susceptible to tampering. It’s simply harder to find areas to exploit when the state maintains the most up-to-date list of eligible voters.

Automatic Voter Registration will save our state money. When voter rolls are more accurate, it means county governments can cut down the cost of election administration by mailing out fewer vote-by-mail ballots to incorrect addresses. Less mailing and less printing equals more savings for County Clerks – and ultimately the public, who pay the bills. We can invest this money in further security mechanisms to protect sensitive voter and election information.

I am confident that this update will greatly benefit Utah’s voters and election administrators alike. I am proud that my colleagues in the Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert have prioritized election security and integrity through their support of this important measure.

It’s the very least we can do to ensure this essential element of our democracy—the vote— keeps up with the times. And keeps its legacy in history.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, during an interview, Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, represents District 7 in the Utah Senate.