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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Bill Requiring In-Person Voting And Allowing Outdoor Polling Locations Headed To Gov. Herbert's Desk

Photo of voting sign.
Julia Ritchey / KUER
Lawmakers passed a bill requiring in-person voting, either indoors or outdoors, in November.

The Utah Legislature approved a bill Thursday to require counties to hold in-person voting this November, which could include outdoor polling locations. 

The June primary election was conducted almost entirely by mail to help slow the spread of COVID-19. There was no in-person voting except in San Juan County and for people with disabilities. 

Utah is already a vote-by-mail state, meaning that every registered voter is mailed a ballot, and that would continue under the bill. 

“Everybody looks to the state of Utah when looking at mail in voting,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville. “We do it right. This [bill] goes through and is responsive and recognizes what we do, but at the same time requires and allows for all people who want to vote in person an option to do that.”

The bill requires the lieutenant governor to conduct a publicity campaign to inform voters about changes made by the bill and encourage them to vote by mail. Senators removed a section of the legislation that would have given the lieutenant governor the ability to eliminate in-person voting to protect public health. That decision now rests with the counties. 

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, tried unsuccessfully to allow counties to send out mail-in ballots one week earlier than usual. Currently, counties can’t send out ballots until three weeks before the election. 

Iwamoto cited reports that budget cuts at the USPS have led to slower service. 

“With the national debate regarding the post office and potential cutbacks in service, I think the extra week will provide comfort to voters, election officials, voter advocacy groups, [and] candidates,” Iwamoto said. 

But senators voted down that suggestion, arguing changing deadlines this late in the election cycle would be unfair to candidates. 

“Most candidates, especially candidates with statewide races and extensive budgets, have already planned out through the calendar based upon these existing deadlines,” said Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, “how much money they're going to spend on advertising, how much they're going to do for get out the vote efforts ... and so on, so forth. So I think moving the goalposts midstream right now is a bad idea. It's going to favor some over others.”

The bill expires in January 2021 and would likely only apply to the November election. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow Sonja on Twitter @SonjaHutson

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