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How Utah's upcoming elections may be affected by coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 9:59 PM, Apr 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 00:03:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature will meet in special session this week to take more steps to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state is preparing for a primary election at the end of June, but the novel coronavirus has the potential to disrupt it.

One thing lawmakers might do is suspend in-person voting, or severely restrict it.

"I think we'll go strictly to mail-in, in order to make sure everyone maintains their safety or security," said Sen. Wayne Harper (R-Taylorsville).

Utah has been a vote-by-mail state for years.

In other states, people have been risking their health to stand in line to vote, and some are scrambling to get vote-by-mail in place.

"The good news is we're already in a good place compared to most states. We have a late June primary election and we're vote-by-mail," said state elections director Justin Lee.

President Donald Trump has said he is not a fan of it, but it's worked very well in Utah.

"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," Harper said.

Harper will run a bill in the special session to move some deadlines surrounding the June primary.

"We're going to have to modify the in-person voting requirements, the dates by which the ballots must be mailed in," he said. "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."

Ballots may have to be quarantined to ensure they're safe to handle.

"With signature gathering packets, we're sitting on them for a day or two before they get processed. 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," Lee said.

The legislative special session will be held next week and it will be largely virtual.

Lawmakers will also consider local health orders and whether they go too far.