Lawmakers change voting procedures for Utah Primary

Mail-in ballots.

LOGAN – The upcoming state primary on June 30 will be like no other Utah election, thanks to changes approved by the Special Session of the Legislature meeting in Salt Lake City.

Under House Bill 3006, approved by both the Utah House and Senate on April 16, the primary vote will be conducted entirely by mail, with a few notable exceptions. The changes to Utah voting statutes are temporary and will expire automatically on Aug. 1.

The temporary law is full of provisions intended to protect the health of voters and election workers in the midst of the current Coronavirus outbreak.

On the assumption that statewide social distancing guidelines will still be in effect in late June, lawmakers have stipulated that the primary election will be conducted with no polling places open on June 30, no in-person early voting, no same-day in-person voter registration and no voter registration by provisional balloting.

All of those activities would require unsafe personal contact between voters and election workers, according to Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, the chief sponsor of HB 3006.

Under the new law, counties will be required to disseminate mail-in ballots to registered voters as usual. The deadline to return ballots by mail will be extended by one day, so ballots postmarked on June 30 will be counted. The traditional deadline for mail-in ballots was the day prior to an election.

Another of the law’s cautionary stipulations gives election workers more time to count ballots in order to ensure that they are handled safely.

The biggest change to election procedures under the temporary statute gives counties the option to employ mobile voting as well as mail-in ballots for the primary election. If a county chooses to do so, its officials will be able to accept ballots from voters who drive up to designated drop-off locations on the day of the primary.

The new law also gives counties the ability to make necessary accommodations for disabled voters and to have ballot drop-off boxes available for the primary.

Counties are required to disseminate information about the election changes and the Lieutenant Governor’s office must “issue protocols to protect the health and safety of voters and government employees in the conduct of the election.”

The lieutenant governor is also authorized to make additional changes to election procedures as necessary for health and safety reasons.

HB 3006 sailed through both houses of the Legislature, once some controversial provisions were deleted from the initial text of the bill. Chief among those was the idea of postponing the primary election until Aug. 4.

The only other hiccup in the bill’s passage came when House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, noted that some larger counties have traditionally provided ballots with their return-postage paid, while others have not. But Moss assured lawmakers that the state was “aggressively” pursuing funding from the recently passes federal CARES Act to cover those kind of expenses.

Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to sign HB3006 into law shortly.

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