City Council Corner
2013 Vote by Mail election to enhance
turnout and convenience for voters
by Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore
When pledging allegiance to the flag of our country we acknowledge our form of government when we say, “…and to the Republic for which it stands…” Indeed, the Constitution of the United States guarantees every state a Republican form of government. A Republic is similar to a Democracy in that both depend on the direct involvement of the citizens.
In a Democracy, all sovereign power lies with the people who exercise that power as a group and vote on virtually every decision - majority rules. In a Republic, citizens elect representatives and delegate to them the sovereign powers of the people to govern. As citizens of a Republic, our greatest duty is to participate in the selection of those to whom we delegate the power to govern. Therefore, it is disappointing that many choose not to exercise their right to vote.
Based on statistics for Salt Lake County, voter turnout in Presidential election years is always highest. In 2012, more than 80 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In 2008, more than 70 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. However, in mid-term elections, voter turnout drops to approximately 50 percent of registered voters. In odd years when municipal elections are held, voter turnout drops dramatically.
For Cottonwood Heights specifically, 86 percent of registered voters took part in our first municipal elections in 2004. (Of course, that was a presidential election year and municipal elections are not typically held on those years.) In subsequent elections, voter participation dropped to an average of 40 percent in 2007, 20 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2011. While not all who are eligible are registered to vote, we do have about 19,500 active registered voters in Cottonwood Heights, which is a pretty high percentage of those eligible.
In an effort to encourage greater participation when voting for elected officials, Cottonwood Heights volunteered to be a test case for voting by mail in this year’s elections. In other words, there will be no voting at traditional polling places in Cottonwood Heights for either the primary election on Aug. 13 or the general election on Nov. 5.
The motivation for this experiment is the rising popularity of voting by mail in our city. In the 2012 presidential election, more than 6,000 voters requested mail ballots. More than 5,000 voters, or 84 percent of those who requested voting by mail, returned their ballots. Six thousand voters represents nearly one third of all registered voters in the city. The percentages grow even greater when applied to the low voter turnout in off-year municipal elections.
In addition to voting by mail, early voting has become more and more popular. It is estimated that between early voting and voting by mail, there are just as many votes cast as those made in person at polling locations on Election Day.
There are many distinct advantages to voting by mail and very few disadvantages. Voting by mail enables all citizens to carefully study the issues and vote in an informed way in the comfort of their home at a time convenient to them. It allows voters to discuss issues and become educated. I compare it to taking an open book test at school.
Approximately 30 days before the election, ballots will be mailed to each registered voter that has voted at least once in the last four years. Those who have been “inactive” voters for the last four years will receive a postcard inviting them to request a ballot.
Voting by mail eliminates the costs of staffing early voting and Election Day voting locations. This cost savings is partially offset by the cost of mailing ballots. However, we believe the outcome will be not only lower costs, but improved voter participation.
Some have expressed concern about voter fraud being more prevalent in a vote by mail process. Each ballot envelope contains an affidavit that must be signed by the voter. The signature on the envelope affidavit is compared to the signature on that voter’s registration form. If the signatures do not match, the voter is notified. If you are like some that use an informal and a formal signature, be sure your signature on your ballot is consistent with the signature on your original voter registration form. If you forget to sign the affidavit on your ballot envelope, you will be contacted and provided the opportunity to sign the affidavit. Every effort has been made to diminish the risk of voter fraud.
Ballots can be completed and mailed back to the Salt Lake County Clerk in the postage paid envelope provided, or there will be ballot drop boxes at the Salt Lake County Government Center and the Cottonwood Heights City Office. Ballots will be mailed out weekly leading up to the election to accommodate those who newly register or have changed addresses. Ballots will even be mailed daily the week before the election in an effort to service all voters desiring to participate. For those voters who need assistance or who did not receive a ballot, they may vote at a vote center located at Cottonwood Heights City Hall on Election Day.
State law requires that ballots returned by mail be postmarked by the day before Election Day. Ballots received in the County Clerk’s Office by Election Day will be counted and the results will posted at 8 p.m. on Election Night. While this may eliminate the fun and anticipation of watching poll results roll in throughout the evening, it will also shorten the campaigning process as most candidates realize votes will be cast before Election Day. Eligible ballots received after Election Day will be counted and included in the “official results” presented to the Board of Canvassers Meeting.
We are truly excited about being a test case for voting by mail. We believe the positive aspects far outweigh the negative, and we are confident it will result in a significant improvement over the 20 percent average voter turnout we have seen in the last two municipal election cycles. In the coming months, we will be posting more information about voting by mail online and in this newsletter. We encourage your participation and welcome your feedback about the experience.