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Bill rolls back vote-by-mail, eliminates drop boxes in push for election audits

Posted at 4:08 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 20:02:15-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill unveiled on Utah's Capitol Hill would dramatically change how people vote in this state, alarming some voter advocates.

House Bill 371, sponsored by Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, would revert back to in-person voting being the primary method of casting a ballot.

"Doing away with mail-in ballots is an option that has to be on the table," Rep. Lyman told reporters on Friday. "It’s got to be on the table, otherwise we don’t talk about any of the other aspects of that mail-in system."

Rep. Lyman's proposed legislation would do a number of other things:

  • Eliminate ballot drop boxes
  • Ban drive-thru voting
  • Place more stringent requirements on absentee ballots
  • Require an image of every ballot be posted online for inspection
  • Cameras documenting the tabulation process

Rep. Lyman told reporters that he personally likes voting by mail and has used it himself. But he repeatedly raised concerns about election integrity.

"What you want to do is make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat," Rep. Lyman said.

He pointed to a significant part of his bill — requiring external audits of elections.

"For me the key provision is the audit provision with an external auditor," he said of the bill. "That external auditor would look at races that are tight, voter turnout is an anomaly with voter registration, just look at some of those things and ultimately issue an opinion someone could trust. Rather than right now, which is have the clerks saying, 'Oh, we audit ourselves' and the [lieutenant governor] saying 'we audit ourselves.'"

Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson have repeatedly defended Utah's election systems as safe and secure. Public polling has shown Utahns overwhelmingly have confidence in our elections and favor vote-by-mail.

"I’m concerned about any legislation that would make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote. There’s absolutely no evidence that Utah’s vote-by-mail system isn’t safe and secure," Lt. Gov. Henderson told FOX 13 News in a statement. "What’s more, the public loves it. I oppose any effort to undermine our election system, as this bill does."

The League of Women Voters of Utah said it opposed the bill.

"The League believes voting is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed. Utah's elections have been safe and secure. There is no reason to roll back voter reforms that have increased access to the ballot for citizens entitled to vote," Catherine Weller, the league's president, told FOX 13 News. "Provisions in Rep. Lyman's bill would increase the cost of elections while simultaneously increasing the burden government places upon its citizens who want to exercise their right to determine who makes the laws that affect them and their livelihoods."

It is unclear how far the bill will get in the legislative session. Asked about it on Friday, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, suggested that while he will entertain discussions about Utah's election systems, vote-by-mail remains very popular.

"It seems to have been working great. People really like it. I’d have a hard time seeing us completely getting rid of it," Speaker Wilson told reporters, adding: "I know that my friends and family quite like vote by mail and I do, too."

Rep. Lyman's bill is similar to a citizen ballot initiative that seeks to go back to in-person voting that so far has not gathered much traction. The Utah State Elections Office told FOX 13 News that as of Friday, 2,432 signatures had been turned in. Organizers need approximately 138,000 signatures by Feb. 15 to qualify to go before voters.

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, has ordered a legislative audit of Utah's elections and other bills are in the works dealing with elections.