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Utah's upcoming election may have quarantined ballots and more vote-by-mail to stop COVID-19

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Posted at 12:46 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 14:50:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's upcoming primary election may eliminate -- or severely restrict -- in-person voting to avoid the spread of novel coronavirus.

Among the items being taken up in a special session of the Utah State Legislature tentatively planned for next week, a bill to deal with upcoming elections.

"We’re going to have to modify the in-person voting requirements, the dates by which the ballots must be mailed in, really key is we’ve got to make sure the county clerks and all the election staff has the personal protective equipment to be safe as they open up all these ballots," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who is sponsoring the elections bill.

Sen. Harper told FOX 13 that they will have to change deadlines so that ballots could be "quarantined" to ensure the papers do not spread COVID-19.

While some county clerks have asked to move the June 30 primary to August 4, Sen. Harper said that will not likely happen.

"The feeling now is leave it at June 30 because that is what everybody’s working for," he said.

While Sen. Harper said his preference would be to go strictly to vote-by-mail, it may not be completely feasible across the state. San Juan County, for example, is under a court order to provide more election polling places after a lawsuit by the Navajo Nation and the ACLU.

On Thursday, state elections officials and county clerks held a conference call to discuss the upcoming election and security and safety for it. State elections director Justin Lee said counties may still provide some in-person voting and protect election workers, but 90% of all balloting is mailed in already in Utah.

"The good news is we’re already in a good place compared to most states," he told FOX 13. "We have a late June primary election and we’re vote-by-mail," he told FOX 13.

As candidates for governor and congress gather signatures to earn a spot on the primary ballot, the state has begun "quarantining" those packets to guard against COVID-19. It will likely happen for primary election ballots, too.

"With signature gathering packets, we’re sitting on them for a day or two before they get process.," Lee said. "Ballots may need to be sat on a table for, we’ll talk to the experts for the amount of time it needs to be."

Because of the pandemic, other states have scrambled to catch up to what Utah has been doing for years now. President Trump has been highly critical of vote-by-mail.

"Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans," he said in a tweet earlier this week.

That isn't true at all for Utah, which has been doing vote-by-mail for years and Republicans continue to dominate elections here (the bill to make Utah a vote-by-mail state was run by a Republican). State elections officials have also said voter fraud is rare.

"Utah set the standard already and other states are catching up," Sen. Harper said. "You know, he has a bunch of information and concerns, but I think for Utah, what we’re doing now is the best for our state."