A bill introduced in the Utah Legislature that originally would have required voters to ask to be sent their ballots, effectively ending the state’s largely by-mail elections, is being overhauled by a new sponsor.

“It’s super simple,” Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, said of the “dramatically” different substitute language being drafted for HB92. The new version would mandate that anyone who misses voting in two elections would no longer automatically receive a ballot by mail.

“All we’re trying to do is minimize the number of mail-in ballots that are being sent out and not returned,” Strong told the Deseret News Monday. “We’ll still have an opt-in of sorts. But the opt-in now will be if you mail your ballot in, you’re in.”

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Now, he said, some ballots are “being thrown in the garbage can” by people who choose not to vote while others are undeliverable because voters have moved without notifying election officials.

Strong said the original bill filed by Rep. Kira Birkeland, R- Morgan, went too far for him and at least some of his colleagues, who “didn’t agree with everything, the direction it was going. So we started to change it.”

He said he didn’t think “for people that were returning ballots every year, that they should need to opt in” and said he and his wife are fans of by-mail voting, often taking a week to fill out their ballots.

“I love mail-in ballots,” Strong said.

However, he said he’s “always concerned about voter fraud,” declaring “of course” it exists and “absolutely” needs to be addressed because “there’s reality and there’s perception. So often, perception is reality.”

Strong said “we want to do everything we can to make our voting system absolutely as secure as possible. Now, do I sit up at night dreaming of voter fraud? No, I don’t. We just want to be sure we’re doing everything we can to tighten it up.”

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A spokeswoman for the House said Tuesday Birkeland “has been working closely with Rep. Strong on the legislation and is pleased with the direction.”

The bill has been held in the House Government Operations Committee since mid-January and the committee’s chairman, Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven, said he is waiting to see the new language before setting a hearing.

Davis County Clerk Brian McKenzie said from what he’s heard about the substitute bill, it would have not only a “significant impact on voters” who find themselves no longer receiving a ballot in the mail, but also on running elections.

Ballots bulk mailed to Davis County voters cost about $1 each, McKenzie said, but if the clerk’s office has to send out ballots individually to voters no longer eligible to automatically receive them “that ballot cost is going to triple or quadruple, easily.”

Voter turnout hit more than 90% in the 2020 presidential election, but dropped as low as 20% to 30% in some recent municipal elections, he said, suggesting there could be a majority of voters no longer receiving a ballot in the mail.

“With this bill, there’s a broader question as to what really are we trying to accomplish here,” McKenzie said. “I see no value at all to this proposal.”

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Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, didn’t sound enthusiastic about the original bill.

“I’ve got to look at the bill, but we haven’t really talked about it a lot,” Adams told the Deseret News, adding he thinks “the system seems to be working fairly well and there’s a ton of work being done.”

Making any big changes to how Utahns vote “would be very difficult right now,” he said.

“As I’ve talked to my constituents, I think they want security. Everybody wants deep security and making sure that only those living in the state vote. But they also really like the convenience of voting by mail,” Adams said

Asked if he was aware of any problems with by-mail voting in Utah, the Senate leader said he’s “heard, obviously, from legislators and others talking. But what I’ve been able to actually verify is that people seem to like it.”

Utah is one of eight states that allow all elections to be conducted entirely by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The others are California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Utah followed Oregon and Washington in implementing by-mail voting, permitting counties to choose whether to participate beginning in 2012. Seven years later, all of the state’s 29 counties were conducting elections by mail.

In 2022, a bill that would have returned Utah to in-person voting by default failed to advance after a raucous committee hearing that filled five separate overflow rooms. Supporters of that bill claimed the move was needed to restore faith in elections.

That same session, lawmakers passed a bill from Strong intending to add transparency to Utah elections. The “belt and suspenders” bill requires poll watchers be allowed to stand within 6 feet to watch the counting of votes and requires regular updates of the vote count.