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Bills could change the way Utah votes

Vote by mail ballot materials
Darylann Elmi
Vote by mail ballot materials

Utah voting rights advocates are sounding the alarm on several bills they're calling "anti-democracy," and want Utahns to know voting practices could change in the future.

The Utah legislature has been in session for almost two weeks, and one group says there have been more than 10 pieces of legislation introduced they say go against America’s democracy.

T-J Ellerbeck is the executive director for the Rural Utah Project and said the bills would put "major limits on the way Utahns can vote, when Utahns can vote and which Utahns can vote." 

"The worst of those is one bill that would eliminate voting by mail in Utah, and Utah has been an all vote-by-mail state for the last eight years," he said. "Some parts of the state have been all vote-by-mail for 10 years and over 90% of Utahns vote-by-mail."

Ellerbeck is referring to House Bill 92 which is sponsored by Republican Representative Kera Birkeland, who covers part of Summit County.

If passed, the bill would require voters who want to vote by mail to sign up. Currently, county clerks send mail-in ballots to Utahns automatically. Birkeland argues the bill would help clean up voter rolls and increase active voter participation. 

Ellerbeck contends Utah is one of the "most forward thinking states when it comes to voting access," and wants the Beehive State to remain that way. Ellerbeck says he is confident the state legislature will protect Utahns from anti-democracy proposals, but adds whether bills are enacted or not, there are still consequences. 

"But having proposals like that come out also make other proposals that impose serious limits on voting access seem much less egregious and might make those proposals much more likely to pass," he said.

Ellerbeck encourages voters to think about whether their respective representative voted for or against the measures.

House Bill 214 is another proposal that would mandate mail-ballots arrive at the clerk's office by Election Day. Currently, they must be postmarked by the day before Election Day. Proponents argue it would help mitigate frustration on election night and speed up the ballot counting process. 

The Rural Utah Project is gathering signatures for a petition to keep the state's current election system in place.

Corrected: January 30, 2024 at 1:10 PM MST
Previously this story reported mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Election Day. It has been corrected to state ballots must be postmarked by the day before Election Day.