There will be a quiet voting revolution going on among voters in Utah as tens of thousands of voters receive their ballots in the mail over the next few weeks. Since the vote-by-mail push began in earnest while I chaired the Salt Lake County Republican Party during the 2010 elections, and continued when I was the chair of the Utah State Republican Party during the 2012 elections, seven counties have begun conducting their elections solely with vote‐by‐mail. Until recently, we didn’t know just how beneficial this balloting method was for the early adopters. Besides eliminating the usual problems for voters of finding polling locations, long lines, bad weather, poor accessibility or lack of parking, voter turnout numbers in some counties make a compelling case for statewide vote‐by‐mail.
Let’s consider the 2010 and 2014 primary results. The recent 2014 off-year primaries are best compared to the prior off-year primaries in 2010 since presidential years (like 2012) tend to skew the numbers. Since 2010, the counties that adopted solely vote‐by‐mail saw an average increase of about 19 percent in their voter participation. The non-vote‐by‐mail counties averaged just under a 5 percent increase.
Clearly, more citizens are voting when they have the option to vote by mail. Counties that have adopted vote‐by‐mail as the primary method for casting ballots researched what works for their citizens, and it’s paying off, and they successfully implemented this balloting process with no apparent issues or voter backlash. Voters in non-vote‐by‐mail counties are beginning to ask why this service is not available for them.
To be sure, vote‐by‐mail changes some election dynamics. As a voter, vote‐by‐mail allows you to schedule your balloting activities around business trips, vacations, school and other personal or family activities. You can research candidates and issues at your leisure, at home or away, and submit your ballots by mail clear up to the election deadline.
In many cases, you can still cast a conventional ballot at locations specified by your county clerk on Election Day. Vote‐by‐mail helps clean up elections, too. The opportunity for negative smear attacks that come out a day or two before Election Day no longer exists since vote‐by‐mail elections now span several weeks. This gives us campaigns that are more focused on issues and voters than cheap tricks.
Utah has been at the forefront of government transparency and performs equally well when it comes to election accessibility. The final piece of the puzzle is a uniform balloting method that increases voter turnout and treats all counties equally. Although counties are gradually adopting vote‐by‐mail on their own, some in time for this coming November’s elections, Utah can and should move to solely vote‐by‐mail for all elections by 2016. Join me in talking to our state and county election leaders and sharing with them the benefits of vote‐by‐mail.
Thomas Wright is president of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty, former volunteer chairman of the Utah Republican Party, Salt Lake County Republican Party and a steering committee member of the Utah Chapter of Fix the Debt.