Today's township elections in Salt Lake County may be the most unique group of elections in the history of the state.
When Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs bring the ballot boxes to the county complex tonight, elections clerks won't break the boxes open to count the ballots as they have always done.Instead, a second seal will be added to the standard seal put on the boxes by the election judges at the polls. A Capitol security officer and Kelleen Potter, state director of elections, will then load the ballot boxes into a van and take them to the state Capitol.
"In the basement of the Capitol we have a storage area we call `a cage.' We're going to lock all the ballot boxes inside the cage. Our office manager maintains the key. The only other people who have keys are building security," Potter said.
Carr Printing Co. has been printing ballots for Utah's counties, cities, towns and school districts for decades. The company started printing ballots for Utah's elections in 1902. Owner Vernon Carr, 79, can't remember another election in Utah where the ballots were sealed. "I never heard my dad talk about sealing up ballots like they are doing for the township elections today," he said.
No one is certain how long the ballots will remain locked up.
The Utah Supreme Court Monday asked 3rd District Judge J. Dennis Frederick to decide two issues in the next 30 days:
- Does Utah's township law require that 51 percent or all registered voters in a proposed township vote for that township, or does the law simply require the vote of a majority of those who go to the polls?
- Is Salt Lake County's public notice of the township elections so flawed that the election should be invalidated?
But once Frederick rules on those issues, the cities or county could appeal that ruling to the Utah Supreme Court. The high court must then decide the next step.
The justices said Monday that a township's ballots won't be open and counted until all legal issues affecting that township are resolved, said Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short. "We are expecting the court's written order to spell that out."
Eight townships are impacted only by the two issues Frederick will deal with first: Emigration, Magna, Copperton, Southwest Community, South White City, North White City, South Granite and North Granite.
The two largest proposed townships, Kearns and Holladay, have a third legal issue affecting their boundaries.
Frederick must decide:
- Whether those wishing to opt out of the two townships either to create their own city or annex into a nearby city must obtain signatures of support from 50 percent of the registered voters in voting districts that are only partially inside the proposed township boundaries.
Some residents and business owners in the center of Holladay want to create a small city called The Cottonwoods. Midvale wants to annex the commercial strip south of Fort Union Boulevard east of 900 East and West Jordan wants to annex 2,300 acres of vacant land on its northeast corner.
Short has refused to certify all three petitions seeking to opt out of the townships because petitioners did not get signatures from 50 percent of the voters in all voting districts impacted by the boundaries.
That issue will take some time to litigate, Short said. The justices originally urged the parties in three lawsuits relating to that issue to resolve the matter in 30 days. "We told them it probably couldn't be done that quickly," Short said. The court agreed.
Sealing the ballots until the legal matters are decided means that voters in Kearns and Holladay are voting about the creation of townships that may not have clear boundaries for several months.
Voters in all 10 township elections are going to the polls Tuesday without knowing whether a majority of all registered voters must turn out in order for a township to have a chance.
The only certainty about Tuesday's election: "The ballots won't be opened until the Supreme Court orders them opened," Short said.
Vote today only
Today is the only chance voters living in areas considering forming townships will have to vote on the propositions as they presently read. Ballots will not be counted for at least 30 days and possibly never, depending on court rulings involving challenges to township petitions and the state law governing township formation.