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THE VOTING BOOTH — With the increasing prevalence of Utah’s mail-in ballots, it can be easy to forget about the barriers which prevent individuals from voting. However, voting hurdles can be devastating to the communities they affect, and can singlehandedly change electoral outcomes.
Here are some common issues people face as they attempt to vote, and some resources for overcoming them.
While you may have heard that voter ID laws can create difficulties, it can be difficult for those not affected to understand why.
For some, voter disenfranchisement might simply stem from a lack of information about what constitutes a valid ID, which means they may find themselves more eligible to vote than they had previously thought.
Utah law requires voters to have one primary ID, which can be fulfilled with a driver’s license, state or federally issued ID card, concealed carry permit, passport, or a tribal ID card (with or without a photo). Alternatively, if someone does not have a primary ID, they can bring two forms of secondary ID, which include utility bills, bank statements, social security cards, or Medicaid or Medicare electronic transfer cards, among other options.
Temporary IDs can also be used, but they cost $23.00 and require pre-existing forms of identification. For those interested, the application process is detailed at the Utah Driver's Division website.
Others face more systemic problems.
For instance, homeless Utahns may not have access to or may have lost the paperwork needed to get an ID, and in addition to preventing them from accessing housing, jobs, and many forms of government assistance, they also cannot get a ballot.
It is legal for homeless people to vote in all 50 states, and there are some workarounds to help them gain access to the polls. One way those experiencing homelessness can establish residency is for them to use shelters or street corners as addresses where they can send mail. Other local resources detailing how those experiencing homelessness can vote can be accessed at nonprofitvote.org.
Those who have been recently released from prison face a predicament similar to those experiencing homelessness. While Utah’s prison population is eligible to vote the day they are released, they face similar disenfranchisement: for many, their identification expires while they are behind bars.
Fortunately for them, the Utah Department of Corrections and Utah Driver’s License Division have partnered to set up a license office at the Utah State Prison. Upon the day of their release, offenders are given a 6-month temporary ID card which gives them time to track down more normative voter IDs.
Absenteeism can also be a major deterrent for eligible voters. Those affected by this process include deployed members of the military, resident college students participating in study abroad programs, and missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
However, absentee voting is easier than you think. According to Utah’s state election website, ballots can be requested online or with a paper sent to the county clerk. Ballots may also be faxed, emailed or mailed to those affected. For upcoming municipal elections, a request for an absentee ballot must have been received by October 31st.
A warning should also be issued for the family members of those who qualify for absentee ballots: Do not fill out and sign ballots for the absentee voter under any circumstances. In August, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox warned that such practices were common in Utah, but constitute voter fraud and can be punishable by a fine or jail time.
A current address is necessary for the delivery of vote by mail ballots. But for some, this requirement can lead to a bureaucratic nightmare.
First — and perhaps most obviously — many people move within the state and county and need to update their addresses. If you fit this description, contact your local clerk using this masterlist on the Utah elections website. Alternatively, you can also complete voter registration and address changes online.
Second, there are some who may fear that voting could publish their address and create danger for them. For those affected, here is a link to a privatization request for Utahns. Voter records can be privatized when evidence of domestic abuse or outstanding danger to a member of a household is provided.
Third — and perhaps most difficult — not all homes have reliable access to mail or official addresses. Both rural communities and Utah reservations can be difficult to locate, causing problems for everyone from emergency responders to government officials sending out ballots.
In fact, a 2016 lawsuit in San Juan County alleged that the shift to a primarily mail-in election unreasonably hindered the ability of Navajo residents to vote because traditional postal services were not reliable on reservations, which they claimed was in violation of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.
This lawsuit was ultimately settled with reopening of nearby polling places among other measures.
The Rural Utah Voting Project is also using mapping to bring temporary addresses to some who live on reservations via Google Plus Codes (which exist for all locations on the planet regardless of formal address) on Google Maps, until the Navajo Nation Rural Addressing Project can create addresses for homes.
But for those who will still be off the grid this election season, here is a locator for the nearest polling booths which can be used with nearby addresses. If that doesn’t work, polling spots are also listed on county websites, like this page on Davis County’s site.
The road to the ballot box can be difficult and disheartening, but resources can provide hope and opportunity for historically underrepresented voters.
And for those with easier voting opportunities, understanding the hurdles which face others can help foster understanding and equity. Kaitlyn Workman is a University of Utah political science and mass communications major. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org