At times, it seems like technology is taking over our lives. That may be true but not in our voting system. The city council recently voted to utilize an age-old institution for municipal elections—the U.S. Post Office.
Later this fall when residents go to cast their ballots, life will be a little different. All residents who are registered voters will receive their ballots in their mailbox and will be able to vote by mail.
In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act which provided federal funding to the states to help them upgrade their voting systems. Salt Lake County received $10 million which it used to purchase 7,500 electronic voting machines in 2005.
But the lifespan of such technology is very limited, and those machines are on their way to obsolescence.
Salt Lake County Elections Clerk Sherrie Swenson confirmed that the machines may be outdated in the future,
“They don’t make them anymore, but we’ve acquired the parts and are trying to extend their life. We’ve also upgraded our software. So we feel confident we can use them through 2020,” she said.
Swenson said that rather than encouraging cities to go the mail-in ballot route, county election officials are just trying to educate the cities on two options open to them: mail-in ballots and consolidated voting locations.
“Will voting by mail help extend the life of the machines by less wear and tear on them? Yes, but that is not our primary focus here,” she said.
City Recorder Molly Spira recently told the council that the voting machines were “dinosaurs,” and she made the recommendation to the council that they move toward voting by mail.
The city is expecting to see a financial savings by switching to a voting by mail system.
Voting by mail is not a new concept for some Sandy residents. In 2013, 5,398 residents voted by mail, and 2,982 residents voted in local polling places.
In fact, voting by mail has been an increasing trend. In 2011, a total of 3,983 residents voted by mail and in 2013 that number grew to 5,398.
Cottonwood Heights and West Jordan City made the jump to vote by mail in 2013. The City of Sandy and the county were watching their elections. Sandy City officials were pleasantly surprised to see an increased voter turnout with the change.
In 2013, Sandy experienced its lowest voter turnout, with only 7 percent of registered voters casting primary election ballots. Cottonwood Heights experienced a 40.6 percent turnout in 2013, which was almost double its 2011 turnout of 20.9 percent in 2011.
“We are very excited to see a higher voter turnout and a more informed voter pool,” Communications Director Nicole Martin said.
In the November election, voters will have three options to return the ballots for a counted vote: take the ballot to City Hall, mail it to City Hall or show up at the one voting place in the city. It is planned that in 2020 the third option will not be available to residents.