Early voting opens for municipal elections with few but important ballot issues

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22 2013 5:29 p.m. MDT

Early voting opened throughout the state on Tuesday, giving voters two weeks to vote before Nov. 5, Election Day.

Chris Bergin, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Early voting opened throughout the state Tuesday, giving voters two weeks to vote before Nov. 5.

Early voting is largely available for convenience reasons, giving busy families or individuals more options to exercise their constitutional right to vote, according to Salt Lake County election director Rozan Mitchell.

Regardless of having more time to get out and vote, Mitchell said this year's election will likely draw smaller crowds because it does not include major federal offices.

But ballots this year do contain mayoral races in every city in Salt Lake County, aside from Salt Lake City, as well as a number of city council seats up for grabs.

"These are people who have a great impact on day-to-day living," Mitchell said, adding that, sadly, municipal elections "just don't draw the crowds that a major election will."

Voters in some cities should also note resolutions or referendums that require residents' input.

Residents within the Jordan School District will take to the polls to decide the fate of their communities, as anticipated growth threatens to explode existing school real estate. As such, voters will be asked to approve or deny a $495 million bond resolution, which, if adopted, would be used to build 11 new school buildings and renovate or update several others.

The proposed AAA-rated bond would be repaid over 15 to 20 years, meaning an extra $10 per month for every $100,000 of home value for homes in the district. The average Jordan School District homeowner faces about $240 in additional annual property taxes over a five-year period.

The bond is the biggest resident-funded issue on the ballot in the state, and some say it would lead to the largest property tax increase in the state as well.

"They don't need the expensive buildings, but they do need buildings," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is also president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Stephenson said the Jordan District has been constructing "Taj Mahals" and could get by with less money per necessary square foot.

For what could be the biggest bond in the history of Utah, Stephenson said voters should send it back to the school board for a commitment that buildings would be constructed with more efficient methods.

With the influx of an estimated 29,000 students in the next 10 years, Jordan is set to burst its borders. Homeowner, mother and PTA member Tanya Peters said better schools enrich communities.

"In Utah, we value our children, we value our families and what we're asking for is people to continue to fund this way of life," she said. "We want the government to be able to do the job it is meant to do."

Peters said the bond would give the district the money it needs to fulfill its educational commitment to the communities it serves.

Residents in Taylorsville will be asked to decide whether the city should join the Unified Fire Service Area, a taxing/bonding authority that would fund fire protection in the region. The move, which would mean leaving the Unified Fire Authority, would shift local control to a board that governs for its entities but also contracts for services with UFA.

Registered voters can apply to vote by mail, which is available 28 days before an election. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked or hand-delivered to county offices by Nov. 4.

Utah is one of 33 states that allows for in-person early voting, beginning 14 days and ending four days ahead of Election Day. Voting is available at various designated locations within counties — 14 locations in Salt Lake County are listed at www.clerk.slco.org.

Voting sites in other counties can be found online or by calling local government offices.

In order to be eligible to vote early, however, voters must be registered to vote at least 30 days before Election Day and provide photo identification at the polling place.

Salt Lake County officials have already received and are still receiving about 300 mail-in ballots every day, and almost 300 people voted early on the first day it was available, Mitchell said. She said the county expects up to 5,000 people to vote early this year.

The busiest locations on the first day of early voting Tuesday were South Jordan City Hall and the Riverton Senior Center, Mitchell said.

Results for the contested races and for ballot issues will be available online the night of Nov. 5.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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