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Utah lawmaker hopes to build voter trust by creating a ballot-tracking system in state

SHARE Utah lawmaker hopes to build voter trust by creating a ballot-tracking system in state

Carson Adams, a temporary election coordinator, scans ballots at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Amid national discussion about alleged voting irregularities in the presidential race, a Utah lawmaker wants to assure confidence in the election process by creating a system to track voters’ ballots.

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said the mistrust of mail-in voting being vocalized in many parts of the country led him to sponsor HB70 for the upcoming legislative session to require a ballot tracking system. The system would be optional for registered voters to sign up for, but would provide electronic notifications via email or text that their ballot was received and counted.

“I think that really matters to people,” Johnson said, “My concern is that if you guys don’t have trust in voting in a democracy, that can be pretty problematic.”

Utah voters can already track their ballots by visiting votesearch.utah.gov once they’ve mailed it in. Johnson wants to give all registered voters the choice to streamline the process of verifying mail-in voting with auto-alerts when their ballots arrive at their county’s ballot center.

“It’s just one more way to have that notification and have it quicker and for people to have confidence in the fact that my ballot got to the place where it was supposed to get and those who are in charge, at that point, have actually run the ballot and it’s been properly counted,” Johnson said.

Justin Lee, the state’s director of elections, said developing the system could be done easily by obtaining the software capabilities from third-party vendors.

“It’s not terribly burdensome or onerous from an administration standpoint,” Lee said. “Really, it just comes down to a fiscal consideration and whether the Legislature wants to fund building this kind of program.”

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner said the concept of electronic notifications isn’t new to her office. She had already started the process for Utah County to contract with third-party vendors to provide this service over a year ago.

“I think it’s great technology, and I fully support the technology.” Powers Gardner said. “My only concern would be it being ... an unfunded mandate.”

The cost of creating the statewide tracking system is estimated to be about $128,000 initially and ongoing costs for the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections, of just over $151,000.

Lee said the ongoing cost would most likely only increase as more registered voters opt into the notification program, since the government would be charged per electronic communique.

Utah County Elections Director Rozan Mitchell expressed concern that the bill would not do enough for voters.

“Sometimes these things get looked at through a very narrow scope,” Mitchell said. “This is really much bigger than just notifying a voter whether or not their ballots have been received.”

Mitchell said, in speaking with other counties’ election directors, they’ve wanted to utilize this type of technology for more than the simple alert to notify delivery. She wants to be able to tell voters of problems with mail-in ballots, like missing affidavits and or signatures.

Even if not perfect, the bill’s sponsor sees the initiative as an important step.

“The feeling I get from what we’ve seen happening nationally, and these allegations that are going on are problematic (because) certainly, what we don’t want in a democracy is fraud in voting on a secure system. So, I’m hoping that this is just one more step that lots of people can come to understand ‘Hey, my vote got counted,’” Johnson said.