County Commission tables decision on countywide mail-in voting system; tentative budget hearings

Iron County Commission voted to table a decision to move to a countywide mail-in voting process. |STG NEWS | Dec. 12, 2015

IRON COUNTY – The Iron County Commission held off on making any decisions Monday regarding mail-in voting after two of the commissioners still had several unanswered questions.

Throughout the state, counties are in the process of deciding whether they will move to a countywide vote-by-mail process for elections in 2016.

The issue has sparked widespread debate as various commissioners discuss the benefits and their concerns about mail-in voting.

Iron County Commissioners Dave Miller and Dale Brinkerhoff both said they felt uneasy about the process for vetting ballots and wanted to take time to make their decision.

Statistically, voter turnout has shown to be higher in areas where votes are cast via mail-in ballots, Brinkerhoff said. The process also decreases the cost to the county previously incurred in holding elections, he said. It cuts down on labor necessary to run booths and the replacement costs for aging equipment.

“We think there will be some savings too,” Brinkerhoff said; “the things that are driving the train.”

Even with mail-in voting, Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker said, the county would still be responsible for retaining at least one polling station in each area where voters can surrender mail-in ballots and where voters can still vote the traditional way.

Brinkerhoff raised concerns about how the county clerk could protect the integrity of the vote-counting process.

“I want the public to be comfortable in the fact that we can’t come in and track the election two weeks before – or anyone else for that matter,” he said.

Whittaker reassured Brinkerhoff that would not happen.

“Well with this method or what we have been doing, all of the election stuff is on one server and that password is not shared and it’s (a) server that is not even connected to network,” he said.

Brinkerhoff asked if there were any other comments prompting Miller’s concerns largely centered on the vetting process, specifically how the signatures and ballots are separated from each other.

“So whatever we do, if it’s vote by mail,” Miller said, “we need to make sure safeguards are in place that every single citizen feels comfortable and confident that their vote is counted if they do cast a vote and too that it remains protected and confidential.”

Whittaker described the mail-in ballots now used as being double-sealed with one side being for the signature and the other the ballot.

“It’s a two-step process so that you separate the verification of the voter from the tabulation of the ballot to make sure there’s a chain of custody and no chances for someone to insert ballots or take away ballots,” Whittaker said.

While Whittaker assured the commission there is no way for the signature to be traced back to the voter, a sample mail-in ballot later brought into the meeting showed that the signature still remains on the envelope once the seals are broken, ultimately allowing an election officer to purposely or inadvertently find out how someone voted.

Miller and Brinkerhoff called the ballot sample “absolutely unacceptable.”

“Right now this shows you have the affidavit on the same container, same envelope, that the ballot comes out of,” Miller said, looking at the sample. “So you take this off and pull it off, it does no good because the name is still attached to the ballot. So we have to get on top of this.”

With more questions left than time, the commissioners voted to table the issue until January.

report continues below on other commission business  

In other business, the commission also approved the 2016 tentative budget after holding a public hearing that met with no comments. See pdf of 2016 tentative budget and pdf of 2015 budget under resources below.

According to county records, the coming year’s budget at approximately $37 million is down almost $3 million from $40 million in 2015.

There were several changes in the budget this year, including $1 million earmarked for renovations of the Iron County Courthouse built in 1975.

Miller said the county is looking at several possibilities for the building.

“We have to address this issue,” he said. “We’ve had sewer drains fail and literally leak raw sewage into the building and drip through the ceilings three times this year. We are looking at different options and funding sources such as grants. We’ve just got to do something. We can’t let this go.”

The commission will hold another meeting for public comment on the budget Monday to discuss adjustments to the current year’s budget. It will also hold a meeting Dec. 17 at 10 a.m. to finalize the 2016 budget. The meetings will be held at the Iron County Courthouse, 68 S. 100 East in Parowan.

Resources

  • Iron County tentative budget for 2016 – pdf
  • Iron County Budget 2015 – pdf
  • A copy of the approved tentative budget  for 2016 is also available for review at the Iron County Auditor’s Office inside the courthouse, or may be obtained by email on request by calling the auditor at telephone 435-477-8330. 

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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3 Comments

  • Lastdays December 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Mail in voting is a very poor idea. How do I know my vote was even cast ? At least when I go to the designated voting place the machine rattles, shakes and makes a noise giving me an indication or the impression that my vote was cast. And I get an ” I Voted ” sticker on the way out. Once I mail it in its gone. I have to “hope” that it was opened and dealt with correctly. Poor idea Washington County.

  • Lastdays December 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    ……..poor idea Iron County.

  • .... December 13, 2015 at 11:39 am

    What makes you think your vote counts in the first place ? Your State Representatives don’t care what you think or who you vote for. The only votes that count is theirs. Your vote means absolutely NOTHING

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