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Vote performance in Utah issued a B+

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WASHINGTON — Utah should receive a strong B-plus or almost an A-minus in its voting performance for the Nov. 7 election, Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert told a group of election officials and philanthropists Wednesday.

The Pew Charitable Trusts held a panel looking at how voting worked in the latest election and what to do to make it better for 2008. Electionline.org released an analysis of voting procedures and any problems across the country as state officials discussed their own experiences.

This was the first election in which Utah offered early voting and used computer voting machines statewide. Herbert said overall people like the technology and accepted the early voting option.

Herbert said any glitches with the electronic voting machines could mostly be traced back to human error. Some voters had to wait 90 minutes to vote in Utah County, but the problem was traced back to a shortcut taken by county employees. The Electionline.org report focused on that problem and on one Salt Lake County voter who said he had voted twice, once during the early voting and once in the general election, just to prove it could be done.

The 2008 election is likely to have more voters due to the presidential race. Herbert said it was hard to anticipate all the potential problems and concerns prior to this election with the new machines but that it was a good lead-in for the next general election.

David Magleby of Brigham Young University Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy said the partnership with the lieutenant governor's office in working on elections has led to productive data and ways to learn how to make the next election better.

Magleby stressed the need for poll-worker training, saying confident poll workers increased voters' confidence in the machines.

"Voters like the new systems versus what they voted on before," Magleby said.

He said it is important that voters know how the new machines work and what procedures are in place, especially before the 2008 election.

But educating the public and training workers comes at a price, and Magleby said the Legislature has to allow money for it.

"We have been doing elections on the cheap for far too long," Magleby said, drawing huge applause from the crowd.

The point of the panel was to have election officials like Herbert learn from each other as well as allow researchers and philanthropic organizations that can fund such research to see how it can help future elections.

Michael Cragun, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, said it is to encourage people to "don't do the 'gotcha' but do research from the get-go."

He said in the past, election research would be done without any input from election officials or just point out what was done wrong, where now they can work together to fix problems as they seen them.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com