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Sanpete County Clerk Sandy Neill helps Talon Lund of Ephraim vote in person. Because of a printing error on the return envelop for mail-in ballots, quite a few residents decided to vote in person.

 

Top Ten #4 Ballots and voting

 

12-30-2020

 

In her years as county clerk, Sandy Neill has administered at least 20 elections. All of them went off without a hitch until 2018.

Prior to 2018, Sanpete County had used either a Salt Lake City ballot printing company or a ballot printer in Washington. Both had been very reliable.

Then the Salt Lake City company went out of business, and the Washington company raised its prices for smaller jurisdictions like Sanpete County to the point where the county couldn’t afford its services.

So in 2018, the county started contracting with various nationally known ballot printing companies, but had a string of unhappy experiences that continued into 2020.

In 2018, both the primary and general election ballots were weeks late arriving in voters’ mailboxes.

One of the worst guffaws happened in the general election when a company called SeaChange based in Minneapolis was responsible for shipping two pallets containing 11,000 ballots to the Provo post office for mailing.

The shipments were not properly documented with tracking information for each pallet. One of the pallets got lost, resulting in a few voters not receiving ballots until the week of the election.

In 2020, Neill gave SeaChange another chance when she hired the company to print and mail ballots for the presidential primary. On the day ballots were supposed to arrive, she received a call from a voter saying he had received a ballot for the wrong political party. Neill was relieved to know ballots were reaching voters on time.

But over the next few days, she received calls from the media and from dozens of voters saying they were Republicans but had received the Democratic ballot, or visa versa.

SeaChange’s explanation was that its equipment had printed a name and address, then skipped down a few rows to pick up the political party for the voter.

Neill’s response was that SeaChange “had messed up now two elections in a row,” and she wouldn’t use the company again.

For the regular primary election, which was held June 30, Neill took a recommendation from another county clerk and contracted with Integrated Voting Systems (IVS) of Dinuba, Calif. Everything went well.

But in the final election, IVS made a serious error. The mailing to a voter includes a ballot and an envelope the voter must use to return the ballot. IVS was supposed to print on both sides of the ballot envelope. It only printed one side.

The company left off a statement the voter signs attesting that he or she is voting honestly. It also left off the signature line. And a ballot must be signed to count.

Quite a few ballots came in unsigned. Complaints starting appearing on Facebook. One post said everyone would need to vote in person because the mail ballots wouldn’t stand up to a legal challenge.

Neill got the word out through local media that if people signed in a designated area on the envelope flap, the ballot would count even though there was no signature line. The Sanpete Messenger posted a video to its Facebook page illustrating how to sign the envelope.

Meanwhile, the California company sent a postcard to every registered voter that the voter could sign and add to his or her ballot envelope, or even send separately from the ballot.

Neill says and her staff did everything they could to contact voters who had sent their ballots in unsigned and to get them to come in to the courthouse and sign the ballots.

In the audit following the election, 47 ballots were still unsigned. Those ballots did not count. But those were out of approximately 12,800 votes cast, which translated to a 91.5 percent turnout, the highest in county history.

 

Clerk Sandy Neill watches. Despite a ballot printing error, the county ended up with 91.5 percent turnout in 2020, the highest in county history.