PROVO — A misplaced bar code slowed the processing of absentee ballots in Utah County, frustrating campaigns that rely on voting data for 11th hour electioneering.
The vendor that printed the county's absentee ballot envelopes placed the bar code on the outside but under the flap. That means election workers have to open each envelope to scan the code just to check the ballot into the computer system.
Utah County already processes its absentee ballots differently than other counties, said Mark Thomas, state elections director. Most counties start processing their early ballots before Election Day and send lists of those who have voted to the state elections office. The state provides the lists daily to subscribers — typically political campaigns that use them to determine who to target or not target for phone calls and fliers.
"Campaigns in particular live and die by this data," Thomas said. "They get really frustrated by Utah County because they don't process them."
Thomas said he doesn't see an issue with ballots being properly counted, but the bar-code problem exacerbates the already-slow process in Utah County. Nothing in state law requires counties to check in early ballots as they're received, he said. The information about who has voted, however, is public and made available to those who request it.
"I've been telling everyone they just have to be patient with us," said Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson.
The county sent out about 22,000 absentee ballots and anticipates mailing another 1,000 this week. The Seattle-based vendor sent a team to the county to help fix the bar codes. Thompson said he expects to start scanning returned ballots later this week.
Thompson said his first priority is make sure the 7,000 residents who registered to vote over the weekend get into the system before next Tuesday's election. He said he's not going to drop that just because campaigns, mostly those on the Republican side, are anxious for the absentee voter information.
"I know it's for campaign purposes and targeting, but I'm not an extension of their campaign," said Thompson, a Republican.
While information from some of the early Utah County ballots has been provided, some campaign workers said those being returned from Utah County are substantially fewer than other counties. Utah County usually waits until Election Day to process and count most of its ballots, but the bar code problem threw a wrench into the process.
Thomas said the political campaigns might be spoiled because of counties that process their ballots in a more timely manner. Salt Lake County, for example, has already checked in 68,000 ballots, while Davis County has processed 12,000, he said.
Utahns have taken to early voting. As of Tuesday, 213,000 residents cast ballots at a polling place or by mail, Thomas said.
"It's going pretty strong," he said, adding it is ahead of the last election's pace.
Thomas expects about 40 percent of residents to vote early. The early voting period ends Friday.