Counties to manage elections

Cities to lose some control in November — and may save $$

Published: Friday, June 29 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Cities will lose some autonomy during their municipal elections because of a statewide vote on school vouchers.
Because counties were already going to have to manage the ballots for the vouchers, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said it only made sense to have the counties manage all of the November elections. Typically, munipalities manage their own elections unless they contract with the county.
That means voters will not have to cast multiple ballots, but it also means that almost every ballot will be cast on an electronic voting machine. Before the directive for counties to manage the elections, which was given Friday by Herbert, many cities were running their own elections on punch card ballot systems.
"This is a rare occurrence," Herbert said about the special election. "It adds a little confusion to the election process."
Shifting the management to the county clerks is also a move to save money for cities, counties and the state, Herbert said, and also a way for the state to provide assistance to the counties for their costs. The state elections office will provide $1.2 million to the counties while spending an additional $800,000 for outside costs for things such as the voter information pamphlet.
Counties and cities will cover their remaining costs, which will amount to about $1.5 million. Herbert said most of that money was already budgeted by the local governments.
For the state, the approximately $2 million will come out of the funding currently reserved for the presidential primary in February. But it is expected that the Legislature will provide the additional money needed to cover those costs in time for the Feb. 5 primary.
"Everyone understands this is a special situation," he said. "It will cost money, but it's an important vote."
Herbert also said that the plan was worked out with input from city recorders and county clerks, although not all of them are happy. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said in a statement that an initial review indicates the county is not getting sufficient funding. At the same time, she said, it appears other counties are either adequately funded or overfunded.
"While it is important for all the counties to receive adequate funding, it isn't fair for Salt Lake County taxpayers to make up the difference for these state-mandated elections," she said.
For the most part, however, the arrangement will work, especially for cities and towns, said Lincoln Shurtz, legislative analyst for the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
"Most of the cities and towns we've talked to seem pretty comfortable," he said. "The biggest concern was that they would have to spend more money than they had budgeted," which will not happen because the state will be covering the differences.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com

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