Here are the new 2023 election dates in Utah that clerks are working to achieve

Originally, municipal primary elections throughout Utah were slated to take place on Aug. 15, with the general election following a little over two months later on Nov. 7.

That’s not the case anymore.

The solution that state lawmakers have landed on to replace U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, who will step down on Sept. 15, is to push back this year’s municipal election dates to Sept. 5 for the primary and Nov. 21 for the general election. Without the changes, March of 2024 would have been the soonest Stewart’s replacement could have been elected, leaving Utah shorthanded in Congress.

“It’s imperative Utah continues to have full representation in Washington, D.C.,” said state Senate President Stuart Adams in a statement. “With Congressman Stewart resigning, it only makes sense to fill the position as quickly as possible.”

State House Speaker Brad Wilson said the revised timeline allows for a “seamless transition and only a brief period of time without representation,” in Washington. Even if that is the case, county clerks have to do the majority of the legwork to ensure a fair, organized and secure election.

2023’s new election dates

The adjusted election schedule impacts the entire state, not just those living within the 2nd Congressional District. However, only registered voters in CD2 are able to vote in the special election to pick Stewart’s successor. All voters can cast their ballot for their respective municipal election.

The new dates are as follows:

  • The municipal and special primary election is Sept. 5
  • The municipal and special general election is Nov. 21
  • The last day to register to vote online for the primary election is Aug. 25
  • All residents can register to vote on the same day as an election at their polling place

Because the dates have changed, the Utah Legislature will most likely decide during a special session on June 14 when ballots will go out to voters and when they need to be postmarked by. Traditionally, mail-in ballots have to be postmarked the day before Election Day. But since the primary election is the day after Labor Day, the Legislature has to figure out when those ballots need to be postmarked because the postal service doesn’t operate on the holiday.

Robert Axson, chair of the Utah Republican Party, advocated for the Legislature to rework the election dates. He said it’s “absolutely paramount” that the special election concludes by the end of the year so the “new election cycle can begin without being overlapped by this special election.”

Axson believes there is enough time to run a “fair and transparent and vigorous election process,” within the proposed timeline.

Extra work for county clerks 

Marki Rowley, the Millard County clerk, said the new schedule poses a few hurdles, especially because both election days are sandwiched between two holidays. The staff usually gets Black Friday off, but not this year.

“It’s going to take a lot of holiday freedom away from our offices just because of the dates that they’re so close [to],” she said. “Just asking that of our people and asking that of our poll workers – it’s a lot. I’m hoping that we don’t lose people.”

Additionally, Millard is one of Utah’s smaller counties. And because of that, city recorders are usually the ones to tackle municipal elections. The county will step in if a city contracts its help. Rowley said they were already planning on assisting cities during the municipal election but now all counties have been asked by the state to help run the elections to keep everything “uniform” and to minimize voter confusion.

Rowley added that the whole process is a bit overwhelming. This is the first election since the Legislature passed at least 34 new bills related to elections. Rowley said she’s still working her way through learning all of the statutes. But it also doesn’t give county clerks much of a break between elections.

“Our life for the next year and seven months is going to be madness because the 2024 election process starts,” she said. “So really, we’re not going to get a breather at all from this election to the next.”

This election is the first for Lannie Chapman in her role as the Salt Lake County clerk. She anticipates running into the same problems Rowley expects when it comes to finding enough poll workers and volunteers during the two holidays.

Both are thankful they’ll have to print two ballots instead of four since the municipal and special elections are happening at the same time. Chapman said that is “saving them some resources.”

To Chapman, one of the biggest challenges is going to be informing voters of the changes.

“The trickiest part here is going to be voter education, making sure voters understand the new election dates, the new deadlines and dates, and when to expect their ballot,” she said.

A handful of cities within the county, like Salt Lake City, are using ranked-choice voting in municipal elections. They were informed there would only be a general election, meaning voters within CD2 aren’t necessarily expecting a primary ballot.

Even with all the moving parts, Rowley and Chapman are confident the election will be smooth, transparent and secure.

“It’s just going to be a lot. It’s going to be a big ask,” Rowley said. “We’ll do it. We always do.”