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Biden administration moves to protect Alaska wilderness; opening statements and first witness in NY trial; SCOTUS hears Starbucks case, with implications for unions on the line; rural North Carolina town gets pathway to home ownership.

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The Supreme Court weighs cities ability to manage a growing homelessness crisis, anti-Israeli protests spread to college campuses nationwide, and more states consider legislation to ban firearms at voting sites and ballot drop boxes.

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Wyoming needs more educators who can teach kids trade skills, a proposal to open 40-thousand acres of an Ohio forest to fracking has environmental advocates alarmed and rural communities lure bicyclists with state-of-the-art bike trail systems.

A number of bills could change the way Utahns vote

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Monday, January 29, 2024   

The Utah legislature has been in session for almost two weeks and one group said there have been more than 10 pieces of legislation introduced they called "anti-democracy" bills.

TJ Ellerbeck, executive director of the Rural Utah Project, said the bills would put "major limits on the way Utahns can vote, when Utahns can vote and which Utahns can vote."

"The worst of those is one bill that would eliminate voting by mail in Utah, and Utah has been an all vote-by-mail state for the last eight years," Ellerbeck explained. "Some parts of the state have been all vote-by-mail for 10 years and over 90% of Utahns vote by mail."

Ellerbeck referred to House Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. If passed, the bill would require voters who want to vote by mail to sign up. Currently, county clerks send mail-in ballots to Utahns automatically. Birkeland argued the bill would help clean up voter rolls and increase active voter participation.

Ellerbeck contended Utah is one of the "most forward-thinking states when it comes to voting access," and wants the Beehive State to remain that way. Ellerbeck noted he is confident the state legislature will protect Utahns from anti-democracy proposals, but added even if the bills are not enacted, there are still consequences.

"Having proposals like that come out also make other proposals that impose serious limits on voting access seem much less egregious and might make those proposals much more likely to pass," Ellerbeck cautioned.

Ellerbeck encouraged voters to think about whether their respective representative voted for or against the measures.

House Bill 214 is another proposal to mandate mail-in ballots arrive at the clerk's office by Election Day. Currently, they must simply be postmarked by Election Day. Proponents argued it would help mitigate frustration on election night and speed up the ballot counting process.

The Rural Utah Project is gathering signatures for a petition to keep the state's current election system in place because Ellerbeck believes it works.

"Last legislative session we saw some of those proposals pass all over the country, but nothing like that passed in Utah," Ellerbeck observed. "When it comes to voting access we've always been at the leading edge. We've been a place where it's always been easy and safe to vote."

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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