Vendor ‘hiccups’ delay primary ballots

Vendor ‘hiccups’ delay primary ballots


By Suzanne Dean




MANTI—The Republican primary, with just two contests on the ballot in Sanpete County, will close out next Tuesday, June 26.

There is no primary for Sanpete County voters in the Democratic party or any of the minor parties that will be on the final ballot.

“It’s the smallest ballot I’ve ever seen,” Sandy Neill, county clerk, said.

The lead contest is the U.S. Senate race between Mitt Romney, past Republican nominee for president, and Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy of Alpine, who actually got more votes than Romney at the Republican State Convention. (See page six for interviews with the candidates.)

The other race is for Sanpete County Commission. The contenders are Justin Atkinson, an engineer and member of the Mt. Pleasant City Council, and Ed Sunderland, a retired farmer and long-time chairman of the board of the Sanpete Water Conservancy District.

If you mail your ballot, it must be postmarked no later than Monday, June 25. If you mail your ballot at the post office near closing time, be sure to ask for the postmark to be hand-stamped.

If you go to one of the drive-up ballot boxes, you need to deposit your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Boxes are located outside the Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim and Gunnison city halls and the county courthouse in Manti.

You also have the option of bringing your ballot to the clerk’s office in person up to 8 p.m. on Election Day, or coming in during office hours, or up to 8 p.m. on Election Day, and voting on a voting machine in the lobby of the courthouse.

To vote in the primary, you must be a registered Republican. If you’re registered in Sanpete County, but are affiliated with a different party, or unaffiliated, it’s too late to change your affiliation to Republican.

But if you’re not registered at all, you can come to the clerk’s office up to just before 8 p.m. on Election Day, register, affiliate with the Republican Party and receive a provisional ballot.

Those basic facts and procedures are similar to other elections. But for Neill, and even for many voters, the election so far has been a lot different and a lot more difficult than past elections.

This year for the first time, the county used an external vendor, Election Systems and Software (ESS) of Omaha, Neb.  to prepare ballots. Apparently, ESS used another company to mail the ballots.

Very few counties in Utah send ballots out themselves. Neill said the deciding factor in choosing to use ESS this election was that her office was scheduled to install required new vote counting equipment at the same time it would have been sending out ballots, and that was more than the office could handle. Other counties had used ESS in the past and been satisfied.

But for Sanpete County and six other Utah counties who used ESS for the primary, things did not work out. Neill is not sure whether the problem was the ballot preparation company or the mailing company or both, but “they did not get the ballots out on time.”

The ballots were scheduled to be mailed June 5. Voters were supposed to get them two or three days later, between about June 7 and June 10.

Yet most of the ballots didn’t reach Sanpete County mailboxes until Tuesday, June 19.

“I’m very confident the rest (of the voters) will receive them tomorrow,” she said. That would be yesterday, Wednesday, June 20.

As weeks passed, as it became evident voters didn’t have ballots, and as some people called to complain, Neill says she felt helpless.

“Your hands are tied,” she said. By the time the problem became apparent, it was far too late to print new ballots and get through the multi-week process of sending them out from the clerk’s office.

To add insult to injury, the drive-up ballot box outside the clerk’s office got smashed up and was out of commission for a while.

“A truck went up and over the curb and smashed it pretty badly,” she says. Her office found someone who could repair it “and we’re up and running again.”

Neill is philosophical about the problems her office has been through. “We don’t want to feel this destroyed our election. It’s just a hiccup in it.”