Utah County no longer paying return postage on mail-in ballots

Jan 23, 2024, 6:34 PM | Updated: Jan 30, 2024, 11:06 pm

PROVO — A change is coming to Utah County voters who want to return their ballots in the mail. Starting with the primary election in 2024, Utah County will no longer pay return postage for by-mail ballots to get delivered.

The postage will need to be paid by the voter, and if they can’t or don’t, the United States Postal Service delivers ballots anyway and charges the county.

County Clerk Aaron Davidson said he’s making the change to push people to drop boxes and to save taxpayer money.

“The main reason is (that) I like to I’d like to maintain custody of the ballots, and when it goes through the mail in process to the U.S. Postal Service, we lose custody of that whenever we handle a ballot. The Utah County Office, we have to have two people there at any time, but I don’t know if they have to have two people,” Davidson told KSL TV.

Davidson said he wasn’t accusing the post office of anything, but rather it was about his preference for the security of drop boxes.

“I’m trying to do everything I can to move people to the three free options, basically… drop it in a drop box, vote in-person or early in-person voting. There’s three ways to do it for free,” he said.“If you want the option and the convenience of doing it through the Postal Service, you have to pay for that convenience.”

Davidson first made the revelation in a legislative committee on Monday, testifying in favor of a bill that would require by-mail ballots to be received in the office by election day, not postmarked the day before. He was the lone clerk in Utah to be in favor of that change.

“It’s not (that) I don’t trust (the USPS.) It’s just that we had over 600 ballots returned to us with postmarks after the deadline and some of them were on Election Day. And so there’s still people that believe that they can mail their ballot in on Election Day,” Davidson said.

Right now, so long as ballots are postmarked the day before election day or taken to a drop box on election day, the vote will be counted. They can be received up until the day of the canvass which happens two weeks later.

‘Disappointed in the decision,’ Utah County commissioner says

Former Utah County Clerk and current Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner said many people don’t have stamps lying around and she worries this change could further disenfranchise vulnerable populations.

“As a former county clerk, I’m disappointed in the decision,” she said.

“The folks that traditionally utilize the return postage are elderly population, those with disabilities and people that are in more rural areas. Really, the people who it’s really hard for them to get out and about, which is why they’re utilizing that service in the first place.”

Davidson also argued it saves taxpayers money, roughly $110,000 to pay for return postage for the large county. But Powers Gardner pushed back on his assertion that he was making the decision for financial reasons.

“It’s not a budget thing. Remember, we gave the county clerk the budget to do this. This is a policy decision, and this is him purposely trying to make it so that people don’t mail their ballot in because he doesn’t prefer vote-by-mail.”

“So I think that’s important to keep in mind is that we have a decision being made by an administrative position that is politically motivated,” she added.

Davidson denied that was his motivation. However, he did admit that he does not prefer voting by mail.

“I like the process that it’s mailed out to people. I prefer that people come in and show their ID and vote in person,” he said.

Powers Gardner also said that at least one other of the county commissioners wasn’t aware of Davidson’s decision. And, that they could decide to take that money back from the clerk’s budget.

“We’re running a structurally imbalanced budget this year because inflation has been so bad. It means we’re pulling out of our savings account to cover the general fund. If he’s not going to use that $100,000 on postage, we just might take it back and put it back into the general fund,” she said.

State law does allow county clerks to make this decision

Utah County isn’t the only county that doesn’t pay for return postage.

Numbers from the County Clerks Association of Utah show about half of the counties in Utah don’t pay for return postage.

“So we’re not the only county,” Davidson said. “So, if I’m disenfranchising, there’s other counties disenfranchising. But the statute says I don’t have to pay for it.”

The counties that do pay for it are Cache, Carbon, Daggett, Davis, Duchesne, Garfield, Grand, Kane, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Uintah, and until this year, Utah.

The counties that do not pay for it include Beaver, Box Elder, Emery, Iron, Juab, Millard, Morgan, Rich, Sevier, Tooele, Washington, Wayne and Weber. Three counties didn’t report.

Since Utah County started voting by mail in 2017, Utah County has always paid for return postage.

Powers Gardner is worried about the change but wants to remind voters that the USPS will still deliver their ballot without a stamp. They will just charge the county for the cost of that.

“Most important is that your ballot will still make it back to us and we’ll pay that postage. Don’t let this stop you from casting your vote,” she said. “Hopefully this doesn’t prevent anyone from returning their ballot. I’m afraid that it might, but it doesn’t have to.”

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Utah County no longer paying return postage on mail-in ballots