Friday, December 15, 2006

Preparations for 2007 Elections are Underway

With the passage and implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) the landscape of elections in the United States have changed significantly. Overwhelming acceptance and success with the electronic voting equipment during the 2006 Utah elections has allowed some election officials to breathe a sigh of relief, but the costs and procedural nuances of pulling-off a successful, fully electronic election for the 2007 municipal elections could prove problematic for many cities in Utah.

Significant cost increases, technical complexity, and statutory ambiguity are weighing heavily on many city recorders and election experts in Utah as the preparations begin for the 2007 election cycle. The Utah League of Cities and Towns and members of the Utah Municipal Clerks Associations have conducted a series of meetings with the Lieutenant Governor and several counties over the last few weeks to address many of these issues and will recommend a series of statutory changes to the Lieutenant Governor (Utah’s chief election officer) and the Municipal Policy Committee for the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

The ULCT and the Municipal Clerks have identified the following issues that will require legislative action during the 2007 legislative session in order for the cities and towns to adequately conduct a successful election.

Changes in the Municipal Election Primary Date: Due to recent statutory changes which require 14 days of early voting in both primary and general elections, we felt it necessary to extend the time period between the municipal primary and the municipal general election. Currently, there is approximately one month between the primary and general election, leaving little time to conduct early voting and address any election issues that may arise during a primary election. We will be suggesting a change in the municipal primary to allow approximately two months between the primary and general to ensure that any primary election challenges that may occur can be adequately addressed prior to the general election.

Greater Consolidation of Voting Precincts: Due to the cost associated with using the electronic equipment, we felt that greater consolidation of voting precincts would help manage the cost associated with the deployment of voting equipment. The current state statute only allows 1st and 2nd class cities to consolidate up to two precincts when conducting elections. The law does, however, allow smaller jurisdictions to consolidate as many precincts as practicable. We will be recommending that 1st and 2nd class cities be allowed to consolidate up to four precincts when conducting municipal elections as a cost management strategy.

Clarify that Electronic Voting Equipment is not required during municipal elections: There are several portions of the current statute which leave some ambiguity as to whether electronic voting equipment is required when conducting municipal elections. We will be making a suggestion that several technical “clean-up” changes be made to Title 20A of the Utah State Code to ensure that there is no requirement that cities use the electronic voting equipment. We would like to ensure that optical scan balloting and paper balloting are still viable options for those communities that wish to use them. We are assuming that many jurisdictions will use the electronic equipment, but want to maintain flexibility on this issue, again as a cost containment issue.

Changes to Early Voting: Finally, we will be recommending that changes be made to the interpretation of the statute governing early voting to ensure that our small jurisdictions are only required to make early voting available during the regular operating hours for there given city or town. Currently the statute says that early voting must be made available for at least 4 hours a day during “normal business hours” for the two weeks preceding the primary and general election. Since the business hours of cities and towns vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, we would like to clarify that early voting be made available for the two weeks preceding the election, but the time frame for the requirement can be determined by the municipality.

We will be meeting with Lieutenant Governor Herbert next week to go over these recommendations and have already acquired a bill sponsor to address these issues. We will be finalizing the recommendations with our Policy Committee in early January, and will be working with the bill sponsor, Representative Doug Aagard, on these issues during the legislative process.