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Utah Democrats Want To Change The Deadline For Mail Ballots To Election Day — But It May Not Work

An envelope that says General Election, San Juan County Utah in the background. A paper that says “official ballot” in the foreground.
Kate Groetzinger
Ballots in Utah must be postmarked the day before the election to count. A bill run by Minority Leader Brian King would change the deadline to Election Day.

Ballots mailed on Election Day in Utah are not valid, according to state law. But a bill filed by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, this session would change that.

Over 2,000 ballots across Utah were not counted in the November election because they were mailed too late, according to data from the state elections office.

Sherrie Swensen is the Salt Lake County clerk, and she said she had to throw out around 800 ballots that were postmarked on or after November 3rd.

“We’ve always had hundreds of ballots that were ineligible because of that deadline, and it’s always been very disappointing,” she said, adding that the number was greater in the last election because more people voted than usual.

For the primary election in June last year, lawmakers changed the deadline for post-marked ballots to Election Day, rather than the day before. It was just one of a number of election changes made by lawmakers due to the pandemic. But that change expired before the general election in November.

Former state legislator Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said she tried to extend the change during a special session last summer, but House leaders wouldn’t bring it up for a vote.

“I wasn’t allowed to present it,” she said. “I tried to get it on as an amendment, but I couldn’t get the House Republican leadership to sign off on it.

Arent, who did not seek re-election in November, asked King to run the bill again this session, and he agreed.

He said changing the deadline for ballots to be postmarked to Election Day would clear up confusion and increase turnout. And while he expects the bill will make it to the floor for a vote, he said it might not pass because it could be seen as benefiting Democrats.

“There are some people — and I’ve heard them up here — who, while not necessarily actively disenfranchising voters, nevertheless have been very forthright in saying, ‘I don’t think we should make it easy to vote,’” he said.

In addition to changing the deadline for mailing in a ballot, the bill would require county clerks to send out ballots a week earlier, or 28 days before an election. King said Swensen requested that change.

“We were inundated with calls in the days leading up to the presidential election,” she said. “People were so upset they hadn’t received their ballot yet.”

Swensen said voters were likely confused because state law used to allow clerks to send out ballots 28-21 days before an election, but lawmakers changed it to 21 days in 2019.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Disability Law Center both support King’s bill, along with the Utah Clerks Association.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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