Bill striking two-week wait on vote counts already on governor's desk
SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns will likely no longer have to wait two weeks to find out election results in tight races.
HB21, a bill requiring clerks to update vote counts between Election Day and the official canvass, has already sailed through both the House and the Senate with overwhelming approval. It now awaits Gov. Gary Herbert's signature.
The proposed law change comes after voters waited anxiously to know the winner of two high-profile, neck-and-neck races last year: the Salt Lake City mayor's race and Proposition 1 in Salt Lake County.
Elections officials deemed both races too close to call on Election Day, with thousands of lingering vote-by-mail ballots still making their way to clerks.
"Having been a candidate myself, I know you're on pins and needles when it comes to knowing those results. I totally understand wanting to know," said Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson. "I think this will help calm those nerves as you wait for those results."
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said if the governor signs the bill into law, it will help solve many "unknowns" for voters and candidates following close races for years to come, starting with the 2016 election.
"It's never done until it's done, but they will get a better idea throughout the two-week canvassing period as to how things are going, whether the gap is closing or if the margin is widening," Swensen said. "It will give the public more information along the way, which is always good — especially for the candidates who might find themselves in a tough situation."
The change would be especially useful considering how vote-by-mail is becoming more and more standard, she added. The results could likely be determined quickly because a bulk of the outstanding ballots usually arrive within a day after the election.
Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch told lawmakers the bill strikes the right balance between "not cutting any corners" on tabulation while also allowing clerks to release the data when they're ready.
The bill would not require daily updates. Clerks would only have to release updated results on the days ballots are actually counted. Election officials usually collect ballots in "batches" and are only counted after verification, Thompson said.
"We don't like having to withhold the results either," Hatch said. "This provides us with a step in the right direction to be able to release those results."
Swensen said the bill should not impact clerks' workload.
"We are processing ballots as they come in our daily mail after Election Day anyway. It's just a matter of us releasing the results," she said.
Thompson said the new requirements are a "reasonable expectation" and something clerks can work with.
"I think it's doable. All in all, I think the biggest advantage is just knowing," he said. "I've always been a proponent of involvement, and if people take an active part in the process, we should do everything we can to encourage that. We should never get in a position when we disregard the citizens' right to know."
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