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Think outside ballot box

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At the very least, the state of Utah must ensure that existing polling places are accessible to would-be voters.

Beyond that, the state and local county clerks must take greater steps to enable Utahns with an array of disabilities to cast their votes in secret.

This will be an expensive undertaking, but technology, innovation and some policy change could go a long way to improve present conditions for voters with disabilities.

First, the state and counties need to get beyond the notion of a traditional polling place. In the last general election, a limited number of Utahns cast their ballots over the Internet. This technology opens up a host of possibilities to people who cannot physically travel to voting precincts.

If a household isn't wired, is it possible to create a mobile polling van, also equipped with like technology, that could travel to people's homes? Surely some enterprising computer science majors at one of Utah's colleges or universities could develop programs to accommodate people with a wide range of disabilities.

Some states have developed Braille ballots, and still others have launched call-in centers where volunteers read the ballot to the voter. Seemingly, a sophisticated voice-mail system could be programmed to enable users to vote without need for human intervention during the process.

Meanwhile, some states are expanding vote-by-mail, also eliminating the need for any voter to go to a polling place.

It's not enough to wring ones hands, acknowledge a problem and simply say it's just too expensive to tackle or that the state simply cannot accommodate every disability.

For more than a decade, private businesses have been asked to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many have remodeled their storefronts, restrooms and made other accommodations to comply with the law and better serve customers with disabilities. While many grudgingly complied, the physical changes to their businesses have had other dividends, such as making businesses more accessible to parents with strollers and customers and employees who suffer temporary injuries.

For governments not to make as great an effort when it comes to a right as important as casting a vote in secret would be a great injustice. We applaud the attention that has been brought to this issue by virtue of the recent assessment of Utah's elections office and procedures called for under recent legislation.

We trust government officials will be mindful of the precious right to vote as they weigh the costs of improvements to Utah's election system.