Don’t expect to get a sense of who is winning the primary elections when the polls close in Utah at 8 pm next Tuesday. Utah lawmakers added a provision in a bill, passed in one of the April special sessions, that bars any release of election results until 10 pm on election day.
Usually, the first wave of results is available within minutes of the polls closing. But HB 3006, passed unanimously by the House and Senate, changes that.
The bill gives voters an extra day to send in their votes. Previously, mail-in ballots had to be postmarked the day before election day. Lawmakers changed that for this June’s primary election because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The delay in reporting election returns stemmed from fears that voters could try to game the system.
“There was a concerned group of people who worried that voters might hear the results at 8 pm, then try to run to the airport post office, which is open until midnight, and try to get their ballots postmarked,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.
The fear that hordes of voters, ballots in hand, might descend on the airport post office on election day had some officials proposing the state hold the initial release of results until 11:59 pm UtahPolicy.com is told.
Swensen says she applauds changing the date for a postmark to election day because the past few elections her office gets hundreds of ballots they can’t count because they were mailed a day late.
“It’s always sad to me that the voters have made that effort and we can’t count their vote,” she said.
Legislators also gave counties an extra week to count ballots, which could mean we won’t know who won close races for up to three weeks after election day.
Election officials are also planning to quarantine ballots for 24 hours after they come in to prevent possibly exposing election workers to the coronavirus.
Swensen says with six days to go before election day, Salt Lake County mailed out approximately 325,000 ballots. Approximately 82,000 have been returned, which is a 26 percent return rate so far.