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Guest opinion: Utah’s vote-by-mail mitigates the health risk of democracy in a pandemic

A voter drops off their ballot in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah has been a leader in preparedness from the time our pioneer ancestors settled in the Salt Lake Valley. But in a time of crisis, our success depends on our foresight.

During my time as the Salt Lake County Republican Party chairman, I realized there was an opportunity to bring a lot more voters into our elections, so I began a vote-by-mail push in earnest. Rep. Steve Eliason and I worked closely to find a way to give counties the ability to opt-in to all-mail elections, and in 2012 he introduced and passed a bill to do just that.

The impact of that legislation was momentous, and it has vastly improved the accessibility and transparency of our elections process. We’ve significantly increased voter turnout, saved the taxpayers time and money and made it easier than ever to participate in our political process. The best part is we didn’t have to force anyone to do it. We gave cities, counties and voters the opportunity to try it out for themselves. And while it took some time for the benefits and cost savings to convince everyone, by 2016, 21 of Utah’s 29 counties had moved to an all-mail election. And now, in 2020, Utah will hold its first statewide vote-by-mail campaign.

The significance of this election reform cannot be overstated. Today, COVID-19 has made vote-by-mail even more crucial. As a state, and country, we’re working together to limit the spread of the virus by working from home, dining in and by thoroughly washing our hands.

Now, just imagine the difficulties in keeping a social distance at a polling location, trying to sanitize voting machines and attempting to keep our immune systems uncompromised and senior citizens safe in the crowds that turn out on Election Day. Utah has already taken the steps necessary to prevent COVID-19 from negatively impacting our voter turnout and protecting the legitimacy of our elections. Utah voters don’t have to choose between staying safe and casting a ballot.

The 2012 voting reform Rep. Eliason and I pushed for not only cut costs and increased voter turnout and accessibility, it ultimately mitigated the potential health risk of voting during a pandemic. Our government leaders should be constantly striving to find ways to be more efficient and better prepared while always remembering that citizens and the private sector can solve our problems more quickly and efficiently.

Thomas Wright is a former Utah Republican Party chairman and is running as a Republican candidate for governor.