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GOP senators pull plug on electronic voting

Some Senate Republicans aren't so sure about the laptop computers they have on their desks.

Even more of them are uncomfortable with extending that same technology to the voting process.The Senate voted 16-11 Thursday to defeat a joint resolution encouraging the lieutenant governor and county clerks across the state to study the use of computer technology, particularly the Internet, in conducting elections.

All 16 "no" votes were cast by Republicans.

There are nine Democrats in the 29-member Senate, including the sponsor of the resolution, Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, D-Granite. All eight Democrats present voted for the bill. Howell is an IBM executive.

Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, feared that supporting the resolution could lead to Utahns casting ballots from home, where they could be coerced by family members or others to vote a certain way.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, suggested electronic voting could lead to a more uninformed electorate.

"Only about 20 percent of the citizens in our communities know the name of their legislators," he said. "We're likely to get much less informed voters than we have today" if individuals can vote by simply accessing the Internet.

Sen. Millie Peterson, D-West Valley City, said the study of electronic voting should be encouraged because it may entice more Utahns to vote.

Howell read a letter from Linda Lunceford, Weber County's clerk and auditor, describing the type of Utahns who could benefit from casting ballots on the Internet. They include residents who are out of state or overseas serving in the military, attending a college or university, or serving a church mission.

"Our military and overseas citizens are our most disenfranchised voters, since it is an impossibility to get a ballot to them, have them vote it and have it returned" on time, Lunceford wrote.

"Enhancing the ability of our citizens to vote, no matter where they may be, is a goal best pursued through the integration of changing technology into the electoral process."

Sen. David Steele, R-West Point, encouraged his colleagues not to think of electronic voting as a future trend that won't affect Utah for years to come. He said Weber County and two other Utah counties are already developing electronic voting processes.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he opposed the resolution because the Legislature would be asking counties to perform studies without giving them money to pay for the work.

Sen. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, and Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden, joined Steele as the only three Republicans voting for the measure.