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September 27, 2021

Gephardt: How does a voter center on private property meet the rules for a free election?

SALT LAKE CITY – People choosing to vote in-person may find themselves doing so at places not controlled by election officials.

Historically, voting in person has meant going to city hall, a library, or a school — some public buildings operated by government officials.

This year, many voters will cast their ballots in privately-owned buildings, where the owner might have a stake in the election.

One of the locations in Salt Lake County where in-person voting will take place on Nov. 3 is Utah’s Hogle Zoo. It is an interesting choice, considering the zoo can directly benefit from voter decisions whenever funding for Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts, and Parks Program is on the ballot.

In fact, there are several private organizations where, this year, you’ll be able to find voting machines – including churches, movie theaters and Vivint Arena. Each is private property.

So how do election officials ensure that what takes place in those private buildings meets all the rules for a free election?

“A polling place on election day is a polling place,” said Lannie Chapman, chief deputy clerk for the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office.

We asked Chapman if there was any hesitation in having a voter center on private property where election officials don’t necessarily have control. “So, we’ve had legal opinions from our counsel that a building is just a building with a big parking lot on election day,” she answered.

Chapman explained the owners of the facilities hosting voter centers have all agreed to hand over control to poll workers on Election Day, and that no legitimate voter will be turned away by the private owners.

“They believe, just like we do that voting is an important American principle and want to make sure that everybody has the chance to have their vote heard,” she said.

One of the reasons Salt Lake County branched out, looking for new places to hold elections has to do with school shootings. After Sandy Hook, count clerk Sherrie Swensen decided it wasn’t a good idea to ask schools to open their doors to voters. Chapman said that schools in the county haven’t hosted polling places since 2014.

The KSL Investigators did check with other counties and found that, indeed, some are still holding elections at schools.

2020 Election:

Increased mail-in voting, COVID-19, and a variety of state-by-state election formats contribute to a unique 2020 election. As a result, it is likely that many close House and Senate races, as well as the presidency, will not be called on Nov. 3. States may also shift in outcome in the days or weeks following the election — an expected change experts have warned about as results are returned. While human error happens, both mail-in and in-person voting have extremely low rates of fraud. The state of Utah has used vote-by-mail since 2012. It has safeguards in place to make sure every ballot it receives is legitimate.


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Matt Gephardt

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