On Wednesday evening, Summit County held a meeting to enable citizens to speak for or against a Basin Recreation Bond. Earlier, news had broken that the County would be violating Utah Statute 11-14-202 if they went ahead and allowed the bond to be on the Ballot. That statute says that election must formally be noticed in the paper 21 days before the election. However, the County Attorney provided examples of cases that indicated that perhaps the county only needed to substantively comply with the statute.
The problem is that these cases are ancient (1908, 1952, and 1967), two-thirds of these cases are not from Utah, and none speak directly to this issue. There is nothing definitive that indicates it’s acceptable for a Utah entity to notice an election late and then have a bond on the ballot. What we do have is a statute that definitively says notices must be in the paper 21 days before an election.
With nothing definitive to back it up, the County has decided to go ahead with the election, even though it violates statute in the hope that it won’t be challenged.
Some might say, “Does this matter? If the last open space bond election was any indication, this bond will pass with flying colors. Besides, everyone knows when the election is. It’s been all over the radio.”
We take a few issues with this:
- The topic really shouldn’t matter. What if next time it was about something entirely different, say a school building, where people are very divided on the issue.
- Just because certain people have the opinion that “information has gotten out on a subject” doesn’t mean it has. Take the Bonanza Park issue where all sorts of people came out and said they had never heard of proposed changes. People who may only read the paper occasionally may be different from those who follow local issues closely.
- If the date of election notice, or even that there needs to be a notice, doesn’t matter, why is it in the statute?
- What other parts of state statutes don’t need to be followed exactly? The hours of the election polls? The statute requiring any instructions given to voters be done by 2 people (one from each party)? The identification required to vote?
When you start drifting away from Utah Statutes about elections, it’s a slippery slope. What is done today could have unintended consequences tomorrow. It would have been far better for the County to suck it up and acknowledge that mistakes happen to everyone — but that mistakes do have consequences.
In this case, the bond would have been postponed to a later election. It probably would pass, like expected, but at least it wouldn’t be pushed through using semi-related, 1908 Utah case law to justify that rules don’t need to be followed. By waiting, they could have done it the right way.