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DUCHESNE — A tradition that stretches back to the founding of the United States has come to an end in Duchesne County.
County residents will no longer go to the polls to vote. Instead, they'll cast their ballots by mail in all countywide elections.
Duchesne County's plan
The change to mail-only voting is primarily tied to what happened to Duchesne County during this year's legislative redistricting process.
"We were chopped up into three (state) House districts and we wanted Duchesne County to have some representation," said chief deputy clerk JoAnn Evans, who is in charge of elections for the county.
Our voter turnout is between 40 percent and 50 percent. Our hope is to raise that to 80 percent through mail-in voting.
–JoAnn Evans, chief deputy clerk
The county was entirely in House District 54. After redistricting — which must take place every 10 years and based on U.S. Census data — it was divided between House districts 53, 55 and 69.
That division has residents concerned that they'll never have enough delegate votes to successfully nominate someone from the county for one of the three state House seats.
But, if mail-in balloting improves voter turnout, as it has in states like Oregon, the political parties in the county would be able to send more delegates to their state conventions because the county would have a greater percentage of the total votes.
"Our voter turnout is between 40 percent and 50 percent," Evans said. "Our hope is to raise that to 80 percent through mail-in voting."
Each registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail four to six weeks before a primary or general election, Evans said. The ballot will include an affidavit the voter must sign using the signature the county has on file.
"The signature is a critical piece of the mail-in ballot," Evans said.
When the completed ballot is returned to the county, the signed affidavit will be removed so that the anonymity of the voter is maintained.
Ballots must be postmarked no later than one day before Election Day. Evans' office cannot begin tallying the votes until the polls open the following morning.
Utah may follow suit
While counties throughout the state have been using mail-in voting for small precincts for years, Duchesne County is the first to implement the practice for all voters.
It may not be alone for long though.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is sponsoring a bill that would require the Lieutenant Governor's Office to explore a vote-by-mail program for the entire state.
"Vote by mail has been kind of sweeping the country," Eliason said. "It allows for much greater voter participation, in some cases up to 20 percent better."
Under HB172, which received a favorable recommendation from the House Government Operations committee last week, the statewide switch wouldn't happen until 2015.
If (voters) want to take several days to study the issue on the ballot ... they have that luxury, where they don't when they just go into the voting booth.
–Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy
"So we have a number of years to still study what changes need to be made," Eliason said. "The plan would be to keep some polls open on Election Day so if somebody really wants to vote in person, they can still do that."
In addition to the prospect of higher voter turnout, Eliason said mail-in voting would also create a more informed electorate.
"If (voters) want to take several days to study the issue on the ballot ... they have that luxury," he said, "where they don't when they just go into the voting booth."
Brooks Snow, chairman of the Duchesne County Republican Party, agreed.
"I think it's going to give us more educated voters," said Snow, who supported the county's transition to mail-only voting.
"Voting has to change with the times," he said, "and I think this is the time."
The switch is also expected to save the county about $35,000 each election year, Evans said.
So how have voters reacted to the change?
"People have been very kind," Evans said. "We've only just had very few people who have been extremely negative."