WEBER COUNTY, Utah, March 3, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Weber County voters only had one polling location for assisted voting on this election day, with an added number of ballot dropbox locations for people to deposit mail-in ballots.
Anyone who wanted to vote in person had to go to Union Station in Ogden, regardless of what Weber County city they call home. And that is a cause for concern for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We at ACLU have concerns about anything that makes voting less accessible,” Niki Venugopal, (ACLU) voting rights coordinator, told Gephardt Daily.
“There are low-income voters that may not have transportation to get to Union Station. There are rural residents. It also decreases the places you can go to do election-day registration to one. If you didn’t get your ballot or weren’t able to register and you can’t get to Weber County’s only assisted site, you can’t vote.”
Venugopal and ACLU volunteers went to several Weber County library locations and the Weber County Fairground, which used to be neighborhood polling sites, she said.
“There were people showing up, expecting to vote,” Venugopal said. She and her volunteers passed out voting information, and directed those who needed or wanted to vote in person to Union Station, on the west side of downtown Ogden, at 2501 Wall Ave.
But Venugopal said she had also talked to a young mother from Huntsville who did not feel able to make the half hour trip in with children in tow.
Venugopal said she and the ACLU volunteers are keeping a tally of people adversely impacted by the change to a single assisted voting location.
“The volunteer’s tally is 150 to 200 so far, and the number is still growing,” she said early Tuesday evening. Voting at Union Station was set to close at 8 p.m.
“We are looking forward to working with the county to make voting accessible all over Weber County.”
Weber County clerk and auditor Ricky Hatch said he had heard from Venugopal several times Tuesday, and looked forward to reviewing the data she and the volunteers were collecting.
“We are trying it today for the first time,” Hatch said of the single assisted-voting site. “It’s a pilot. We’re going to see what worked and what didn’t. In a couple weeks, when the dust clears, we will talk with our staff and with the ACLU, and we will have seen how it worked.
“I have already made some mental notes, and have been getting feedback from the poll workers and the voters so we can improve the process.”
The reason for trying the single assisted-voting location was savings, Hatch said.
“On average, about 95 percent in Weber County vote by mail. We started looking at the numbers, and only about 2,000 voted in person in 2019. We began to wonder if there was a better way we could keep our costs down and use our resources better.”
Having more workers at the single site also increases security, Hatch said, and allows for enough staff members to keep an eye on people in line and manage the crowd better.
Weber County also extended voting hours, Hatch said, allowing more people time to vote at Union Station.
Hatch said there is a voting drop box or mailbox within a couple miles of every household with voters.
Hatch also said mailings went out in January to remind people of the new plan, and that ballots were mailed to people registered as Democrats and Independents in plenty of time.
Hatch said he knows of no other counties in Utah trying the single assisted-voting location.
Changes to the polling process will be evaluated before the next election, Hatch said.
“If it doesn’t work, we will scrap it and go back to the old model. The jury is still out.”