One of every eight “active voters” registered in Utah has already cast a ballot — meaning for tens of thousands of residents the expected barrage of political ads, door-to-door campaigning and candidate honk-and-waves between now and Election Day will be too late to make a difference.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen estimates that perhaps as many as 40 percent of voters in her county may go to the polls before early voting ends on Friday — helping to keep lines down both now and on Nov. 6, and perhaps someday decreasing late onslaughts of political advertising.
“Most people would be glad if they would go away,” Swensen said of the campaign ads.
As of noon Friday, 161,030 Utahns had voted — 87,015 via absentee ballots and 65,489 through early voting at scores of locations statewide, according to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell’s office.
“That means about 12.5 percent of active voters have already voted,” said Justin Lee, an elections specialist for the lieutenant governor.
The state has 1.26 million “active voters” registered, meaning they have voted in recent elections. It has another 238,000 “inactive voters” — who are still registered, but have not voted in the past two general elections — for a total of 1.5 million registered voters.
“We expected early voting to be pretty heavy, so it’s not surprising to see this many people coming out,” Lee said.
Lines have been up to an hour long at times in Utah County. “It’s common in the first few days of early voting with all the pent-up demand for the people who want to vote and get it over with. The first week always seems heavier than the second,” said Scott Hogensen, chief deputy Utah County clerk-auditor.
One way to avoid long lines is to check vote.utah.gov, which includes an estimate of how long lines are currently at each location.
Meanwhile in Salt Lake County, Swensen said lines have not been long. “It’s actually been moving very smoothly. We’ve already had about 24,000 people vote in our early voting locations, which is more than we anticipated since it only started on Tuesday.”
She said her county added five early voting locations this year — for a total of 21, and four times the five sites that Utah County offers — because some long lines occurred in 2008. Voters can vote in any early voting location within their county of residence.
“At this pace we’re going to surpass what we hoped for in terms of early vote turnout,” Swensen said. “I expect we will get about 50,000 at this rate.”
She said she earlier hoped that about 10 percent of the county’s 445,000 active voters would use early voting. Another 130,000 have requested ballots by mail.
She said early voting and vote-by-mail seem to increase turnout. For example, “When we mail people ballots, they return them in higher numbers than the overall turnout.”
While early voting operates only on weekdays in most locations, Swensen added that one site is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Salt Lake County offices, 2100 S. State.
Vote.utah.gov has the location and hours of all early voting sites statewide, and lists of candidates and propositions appearing on the ballot — and the voter guide that includes information about them.
Mark Thomas, state elections director for Bell, has estimated that turnout could hit 80 percent of active voters registered this year, in part because it is the first presidential election where one of the major-party nominees has significant ties to Utah, with former 2002 Olympics chief Mitt Romney heading the Republican ticket. Romney also belongs to the Mormon faith that claims more than 60 percent of Utah residents as members.
Besides the presidential race, Utahns this year will decide federal races for the U.S. Senate and four House seats; statewide races for governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer; 75 Utah House seats and 16 state Senate seats; and numerous county races, including Salt Lake County mayor; judicial retention races and ballot propositions — one of them a $47 million parks bond in Salt Lake County.
Some 21 early polling places are available throughout Salt Lake County on weekdays through Nov. 2. Additionally, early voting stations are open this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State St. Find your early-voting locations, times, and ballot information at vote.utah.gov