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Those living in rural America face greater challenges with voting

Posted at 12:29 PM, Aug 21, 2020

Life in rural America comes with its challenges, and those challenges are highlighted during election season.

Sam Van Wetter, a resident of the small town of Boulder, Utah, knows it. So, he works to make sure the voices of this tiny community aren’t lost in the massive landscape of southern Utah.

“I think our voting system is designed to favor people who live in metropolitan areas, and on their way home, just walk a block or two to a polling place to cast their ballot there," he explained of America’s current methods of voting.

Van Wetter works with the Rural Utah Project, which helps ensure those living off the beaten path have the same options as the rest of America.

On a typical election day in Boulder, the only polling location in Garfield County is hours away.

"You have to drive two-and-a-half hours to the west to county seat, where you can vote in a courthouse," explained Van Wetter.

The seclusion of life in this part of America makes voting by mail the preferred option.

In fact, all of Utah has voted by mail since 2018. That year, the state saw midterm voter turnout rose by 52 percent.

As many parts of America worry if the United States Postal Service (USPS) can handle all the ballots, Van Wetter fears in the most rural corners of the country, there is a larger room for error.

"You have to work in advance and be proactive to get your ballot in," he said.

For those who worry a ballot could be lost or won’t arrive in time, they could be out of luck.

“I don’t trust it. I think the votes can be screwed up big time when they all get counted so I don’t like it," said resident Larry Ripplinger, who has called Boulder home for decades.

The only place to turn in your ballot by hand or vote in person is at the Garfield County Clerk’s Office, which is about a two-hour drive.

“If you’re working, or maybe you’re an older person who doesn’t feel comfortable making that drive, it just means you don’t get your ballot turned in, and that’s happened more often than you like to hear about," said Boulder resident Peg Smith.

The USPS is recommending voters nationwide turn ballots in at least a week before the election deadline.

Van Wetter, along with The Rural Utah Project, wants local leaders to provide ballot drop boxes across Garfield County.

"It would enable us to drop off the ballot a day or two before the election," he said.

Garfield County Clerk Camille Moore says the drop boxes likely won't happen for the election in the fall, citing confidence in years of mail-in voting. She also said Boulder is "quite a ways over there."

"I think in America, there are too many barriers to vote, and living in rural places gives you a few more barriers," Van Wetter said.

The distance that surrounds towns like Boulder is what Van Wetter is working to make sure isn’t an obstacle in taking part in the most American of duties.

"There are many different ways to live as an American, and we need systems that account for everyone and don’t leave anyone without a vote in the dark," he said.