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The long, expensive campaign season finally reaches its climax today as Utah polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and officials expect higher turnout than they have seen in decades.
"Based on early voting, I think we will be at least at 74 percent, and perhaps up to 80 percent" of active registered voters, or those who voted in one of the two past general elections, said Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
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"We haven’t been that high in decades," he said. "In 2010, we were just at 61 percent."
Thomas expects high turnout in part because of excitement about the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, chief of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, who is also Mormon — as are about 60 percent of Utahns.
Also driving up turnout, Thomas said, are some close, hard-fought in-state campaigns, including the congressional contest between Rep. Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love, and the Salt Lake County mayoral race between Republican Mark Crockett and Democrat Ben McAdams.
High turnout is actually off to an early start — with one of three registered Utah voters already casting ballots before Election Day.
About 377,000 Utahns already voted — 233,000 by using early-voting locations and another 144,000 by mailing in absentee ballots — or 30 percent of active registered voters, Thomas said.
"We’re doing well. That is heavier than usual. On Friday alone [when early voting ended], we had 48,000 people vote," Thomas said. "We had some huge numbers that day and long lines reported."
He said tiny Duchesne County had the highest rate of voting early — 63 percent of active registered voters. It converted this year to entirely voting by mail.
Next highest were Salt Lake and Davis counties at 34 percent. Thomas noted they had more early-polling locations than many counties, and many also were open later into the evening — which seemed to help turnout.
Counties with the lowest percentages of early voters included Millard, 18 percent; Emery, 14 percent; and San Juan, 13 percent.
For those who have yet to vote — especially if they delay on Tuesday — they will probably hear from parties and candidates throughout the day.
That’s because Democrats and Republicans watch polls in key districts to see if likely supporters — identified through surveys or party registration — have voted, and then relay the names of those who have not to phone banks for reminder calls.
Those who delay "will probably get a phone call or two from us and more from individual candidates," said Lauren Littlefield, executive director of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.
"We target key precincts for us. We want to mobilize our base of Democrats," she said. "We want to be sure they get out and vote for Ben McAdams and Jim Matheson."
Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said his party made 50,000 calls Saturday alone to remind likely supporters to vote and distributed 250,000 "door knockers" in key precincts with lists of Republican candidates and polling places.
The 110,000 Utahns who requested absentee ballots but had not returned them were targets of special attention by Republicans on Monday, too. "We’ve been calling them, urging them to return their ballots," Wright said.
Besides the presidential race, Utahns on Tuesday 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.
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