Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner decided to file for the clerk/auditor position because she was frustrated with the election process — and in the six months since she was sworn into office, she hasn’t wasted any time purchasing new equipment and revamping the entire process.
“It wasn’t just that we had outdated equipment, but it was that our processes were not sufficient to handle the volume of voters that we had,” Powers Gardner said.
Updating the processes included purchasing things like custom shelving and mail trays to make sure things run smoother, but most of the money used for updating the election process went towards purchasing 58 new printers, two high-speed scanners for the mail-in ballots, 58 scanners for polls, and a machine that processes incoming mail. According to Rozan Mitchell, the elections director, Utah County is the only county in the state with the two high-speed scanners that scan ballots at a rate of 300 per minute.
Josh Daniels, chief deputy of the County Clerk’s Office, said the county hadn’t updated its voting system in over 10 years, and one of the major updates needed was a better system for mail-in ballots. The new machines will allow Utah County to process mail-in ballots at a rate of 600 per minute using both machines.
“That’s going to really streamline our ability to have results quickly at the end of the election,” Daniels said.
It also will allow Utah County elections to cut back on the temporary labor needed to open all those envelopes.
“We figure that these machines will have 100% paid for themselves in the first three years in a reduction of workforce in temporary labor. Plus we’ll be processing a lot faster,” Powers Gardner said. “We’ll probably process 10 times faster and it will be cost-neutral in three years.”
Another major change for the next election is the resurrection of paper ballots. While the idea of using paper may seem like a step backwards, both Daniels and Powers Gardner said it will help streamline the process and prevent the “bottleneck” many voters experienced as recently as 2018.
“If someone is taking a long time to decide on their ballot, there isn’t a line of 400 people waiting behind them,” Powers Gardner said. “(Voters) check in, they get their paper ballot, they can stand at the little poll booth as long as they want, as long as they feel comfortable, and it’s not holding up the line.”
Powers Gardner said the paper ballots can also help voters feel more confident about their votes being recorded correctly, and there’s more security attached to it since voters place their own ballots directly into a scanner to be counted.
“They’re not just dropping it into a box as they walk out the door,” she said. “And then we keep that paper ballot for audit purposes.”
Utah County residents were able to test out the new system and see how the new equipment works at a mock election Thursday afternoon that involved ranking local pizza places and voting for favorite burger joints. However, only the next election in Utah County will really put it to the test, although Powers Gardner is confident in the new process they’ve organized.
“It’s not just, hey we brought in $800,000 in equipment; it’s that we have really truly revamped the entire process to better fit our population,” she said. “And we’ve brought in the experience to do it right.”