Taylorsville voters will have dozens of options for casting their ballots this year
Mar 28, 2017 04:18PM
● By Bryan Scott
Taylorsville voters who passed on mailing in ballots last fall were greeted by long lines. A much smaller turnout is expected for municipal elections this year. (Taylorsville City)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
For the first time ever this fall, Taylorsville city residents will have the opportunity to cast ballots—for their mayor and two city council positions—anywhere across Salt Lake County, on Election Day.
But perhaps more importantly, they will also be allowed to do so from the comfort of their own home for several days before Election Day.
“Vote-by-mail has quickly grown in popularity throughout the county,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. “The first time we did it—for municipal elections—was in 2013, when only two cities participated. Then last time around, in 2015, only two cities (Taylorsville and West Valley) chose not to do it. So, we’re pleased to hear Taylorsville is going that route this year, because it really gives voters a lot more options.”
Taylorsville City Council members discussed voting options in two consecutive meetings. Initially, some concerns were raised over how effective the county’s system is for checking ballot signatures. But Swensen said she is confident in their system.
“We have three levels of signature checking, starting with a team of about 50 people who compare ballot signatures with each voters’ signature we have in our computer database,” she said. “None of the comparisons are done by computer programs. We put human eyes on all of the signed ballot affidavits. Last fall that totaled about 353,000 signed ballots.”
County officials say none of the signature checkers know who has been voted for, because the ballots remain sealed. Those that are “red flagged” by a first-level screener are then reviewed by supervisors.
If there is still a question, Swensen says sometimes her office should send letters to voters to further verify their signatures.
Salt Lake County’s vote-by-mail process has become so efficient that the bid the clerk’s office provided to Taylorsville City to conduct this year’s municipal election in that manner is more than $16,000 lower than if the city opted instead for on-site voting.
The cost choice presented to city council members was $107,950 for vote-by-mail versus $124,080 to hold traditional polling site elections.
Besides a higher cost, Taylorsville voters would have also had far fewer voting locations to choose from.
“If Taylorsville had passed on vote-by-mail, citizens would have only three or four locations, within city limits, to cast their ballots on Election Day,” Swensen added. “By choosing the vote-by-mail option, citizens who instead want to cast their ballots at a vote center can go to any of the more than forty we will operate on Election Day.”
That means Taylorsville residents who go to work outside the city can simply go to a vote center near their office sometime during the day to cast their ballots.
“At each of those locations, our staff will have computer access to all of the Salt Lake County municipal ballots,” Swensen said. “So, that provides a lot of options for those who wait until Election Day to cast their ballots.”
However, the majority of voters are expected to mail their ballots in and never go near a vote center.
In the presidential election last fall, only about 74,000 on-site ballots were cast on Election Day, compared to 353,000 that were mailed. Still, that small percentage of vote center ballots still created some tremendous lines in several locations, including the Taylorsville City office.
“Our countywide voter turnout for the presidential race was 84 percent, by far the biggest ever,” Swensen said. “We don’t expect nearly that many people for the city races this year.”
The Taylorsville mayor and District 4 and 5 council seats will be on the ballot. Incumbent Mayor Larry Johnson and District 5 Councilman Dan Armstrong say they will seek re-election. But District 4 Councilwoman Dama Barbour says she will not be on the ballot again.
The official election filing period is June 1 to 7. If primary elections are necessary in any of the races, they will be held Aug. 15.
The city council voted unanimously for the vote-by-mail option.
Depending on how many candidates emerge, city officials may lobby the county clerk’s office to add more vote centers within Taylorsville City limits.
As of now, county officials plan to operate three Election Day sites in the city.