2020 Elections: Catalyst’s quick guide – Here’s what you need to know to participate in Utah elections this year.

By Emily Spacek

This year’s presidential election is looking to be more tumultuous than usual. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic and for many American voters, voting this year might look different because of it. Mail ballots will be the preferred voting method in most states, even as postal services are being curtailed.

Utahns have been voting by mail for years now, and the election here  is projected to run smoothly and with a high turnout. All registered Utah voters will automatically receive a 2020 ballot in the mail in October.

For seasoned voters and first-timers alike

In the quick guide below—compiled with guidance from Katharine Biele (communications director) and Vickie Samuelson (co-president) of  the League of Women Voters Utah—see how elections will work this year, how you can ensure your vote will be counted, who and what is on the ballot and other important reminders. Remember, the 2020 elections will also determine a range partisan elected seats beyond the presidency in county, state and federal offices, school board and judicial seats as well as constitutional amendments.

Register to vote and check your registration status

Your new voter registration or any changes to your current registration must be received by your county clerk before 5:00pm on Friday, October 23, 2020.

Prepare to vote: Becoming an informed voter

The first step to becoming a well-informed voter is learning who your representatives are at each level of government.

  • Enter your residential address at the Utah.gov site here and take note of all of your district numbers (Congress, State Senate, State House, State School Board, etc.).
  • To view your current elected officials, visit utah.gov, select “Learn about candidates and issues,” enter your residential address and select “Contact my elected officials” to the right of the screen.

Next, find out who is running for office in your district this November.

  • The Governor’s website offers a list of 2020 candidates for federal and state offices and state school board. Use your district numbers to determine which candidates apply to you.
  • County Clerk websites (SLC County Clerk page linked here) also offer a list of 2020 candidates, and include candidates specific to county seats and local school boards. Many also include candidate websites or phone numbers, making it easier to research candidates who pique your interest.

Research the candidates to find out who you best align with ideologically.

  • VoteSmart tracks positions and voting history of incumbent politicians. Vote411, run by League of Women Voters, has comprehensive bios and question responses for many candidates running in county, school board and state representative positions.
  • Check in with organizations you most align with politically to see if they have their own vote trackers or legislative score cards. For example, see Sierra Club Utah Chapter’s 2020 legislative score card, which grades state representatives on their critical environmental work.

Research what issues will appear on your ballot.

  • Seven state constitutional amendments appear on this year’s ballot. You can read them on Ballotpedia here. The League of Women’s Voters recommends voters pay special attention to Amendment G, on taxes, which they are downvoting due to its vague language and lack of transparency.

Your voting plan

Voting will take place through the mail, at limited in-person polls, through drive-through polls and through early voting. Ballots drop in Utah on October 13. This year, all registered voters will automatically receive a 2020 ballot in the mail. Consider which method is best for you and make your plan now.

Early voting

Early voting for the General Election begins on October 20 and ends on October 30.  Early voting will take place at specific drive-up or in-person locations (see below). For more information on in-person voting, visit your County Clerk website.

Drive-through voting

Due to COVID-19 and the need to limit in-person contact, several Utah counties will set up drive-through voting. At these locations, voters drive up, scan their driver licenses and are handed a printed ballot to fill out in their cars and hand back. Again, contact your County Clerk’s office for more information and for locations.

In-person voting

While not the preferred voting method this year, Utah counties will provide limited in-person voting opportunities. Check your County Clerk website for hours and locations. Remember to bring a reliable form of identification! (See here for Voter ID Requirements in Utah)

Voting by mail

  • All registered voters will automatically receive a mail ballot in their mail from October 13 to October 20. If you do not receive a ballot by October 20, contact your County Clerk office.
  • Completed ballots may be submitted as soon as they arrive in the mail. In most counties, postage-paid return envelopes are provided.
  • Mailed ballots must be postmarked by the day before the election in order to be counted. The League of Women Voters recommends mailing your ballot one week before the election—by October 27.
  • Ballots may also be submitted at ballot drop-off locations up until 8pm on Election Day, November 3, 2020.

For Salt Lake County, see a map of ballot drop box locations here.

Voting: How to fill out your ballot and ensure your vote is counted

When filling out your ballot, follow directions carefully.

  • Use a black or blue ballpoint pen.
  • Be sure to completely fill in the ovals.
  • If you make a mistake marking your ballot, cross through the incorrection, make your correction and circle it. Do not sign or initial your ballot.
  • Sign the voter affidavit on the back of the return envelope. The signature on the affidavit should be the same signature you submitted on your voter registration form.
  • Sometimes, our signatures change over time. If you believe this might be the case for you, update your voter registration and signature by October 23.
  • If there is an issue with your signature on your returned ballot envelope matching the one on file in your record, your County Clerk’s office will call you immediately so that you can resolve it and have your ballot counted.
  • The sooner you return your ballot, the higher the chances of fixing potential issues before the Election deadline.

This year, voters can track their ballots online at the Lieutenant Governor’s website or by calling their County Clerk office. The League of Women Voters recommends everyone track their ballots after voting. With ballot tracking in place, there should be no reason anyone’s ballot gets tossed!

To find out if your County Clerk office needs poll workers or other volunteers this election, be sure to visit their website or give them a call. Otherwise, take some extra time this year to encourage your friends and family to vote. If you have a printer, offer to print voting guides for neighbors who might not have online access. Perhaps even offer to drive someone to a polling place or drop-off box. While the presidential election is usually what most voters will feel most passionate about, the local elections are important to participate in as well. Local elections tend to touch our lives in more direct ways, and we want the politics of our local communities to represent the values of all of our community members. We can help make voting accessible and inclusive to all this year.

If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, Vickie Samuelson reminds us that it’s much easier today than it was for many in previous eras. Black men got the right to vote after the Civil War, but voted under great duress. Women’s voting rights were finally recognized in 1920. Full suffrage for Black women was not guaranteed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965! Even today, many U.S. citizens who have the legal right to vote are denied doing so due to local obstacles.

“We’ve fought hard to get the right to vote. Government is ‘for the people, by the people.’ Well, we are the people and we need to exercise this right,” concludes Samuelson.


Emily Spacek is a CATALYST staff writer.

This article was originally published on October 8, 2020.