SALT LAKE CITY -- It happens every election season.
“I think most the time it’s just parents who are trying to help out, trying to, you know, vote for the kid,” said Justin Lee, the Utah State Director of Elections.
Lee is referring to parents, signing ballot envelopes for their missionaries who are serving overseas.
“Sign your own envelope, it is a crime to sign someone else’s name even with their permission,” said Curtis Koch, the Davis County Auditor.
Cases are rarely prosecuted. Generally, county election workers will contact someone when they discover an envelope with the wrong signature. Unless there is malicious intent, the incident is used as a moment for voter education. The goal, after all, is to be sure everyone has the opportunity to vote.
“You can email in your absentee request form. You can get it delivered by email, you can have it delivered to you so there’s lots of ways for overseas voters to get the ballot,” said Lee.
Every county has a system for checking signatures to be sure they match various state records. In Davis County, it involves running ballot envelopes through a machine which creates a digital image and compares the signatures to state records. Only 20% to 30% pass the check. The rest move on to a visual verification, where staff members who have passed statewide security training, manually check the signatures. If a signature is challenged, each county’s election office will contact the voter directly. Discrepancies can usually be cleared up but if they can’t the ballot in question is not counted.
While missionary moms and dads voting for their kids is not a big problem in Utah, local election officials do see one clear threat, people not showing up.
“That’s the biggest threat is people, not, just throwing their hands in the air and not being involved. It’s a right, it’s a responsibility and there’s some really great opportunities for folks,” said Koch.