New era for Utah politics: 7 counties voting mainly by mail
This month's primary will be a bit different in Utah with seven counties conducting balloting primarily by mail (five for the first time) and four experimenting with new election-day voter registration.
While officials hope that will increase the traditionally light turnout in primaries, it also creates different deadlines among counties over coming days for voter registration and early voting before the June 24 primary.
Voting is underway in the seven counties that now are handling ballots primarily by mail. They are Davis, Beaver, Duchesne, Garfield, Grand, San Juan and Sevier, said Justin Lee, deputy state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Brian McKenzie, election manager for Davis County, said his office sent 90,000 ballots to registered voters May 23. "As of yesterday, we had just over 12,000 of those returned. So we're excited about the response we're getting."
Lee said Duchesne County used voting by mail two years ago "and it went really well, and then last year Weber County used it for a special bond election. They saw improvement in their turnout, so a few more counties said, 'Let's give this a try.' "
Counties doing by-mail voting will not have in-person early voting. But most other counties will offer that early voting beginning Tuesday, usually in city halls and libraries. A list of sites is available online at vote.utah.gov.
That brings a first registration deadline. Monday is the last day for new voters to register if they want to participate in early voting, and it must be done in-person at county clerks' offices.
Online voter registration is available through June 17 at vote.utah.gov for Utahns who want to cast ballots on June 24.
So how do people who have yet to register cast votes in the counties that have already mailed ballots?
"We do have seven vote centers that will be available on election day to provide for voters who fall into that category," McKenzie said about Davis County. Voters who lose ballots, or simply want to drop them off there, may also use the centers.
Balloting by mail decreases some flexibility for voters to choose in which party's primary to participate. Republicans allow only registered Republicans to vote in theirs, while the Democratic primary is open to Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
McKenzie said Davis County sent letters warning that because of voting by mail, it required voters to choose 30 days before the primary date with which party they wanted to register, and which ballot they wanted.
In counties that do not use voting by mail, voters generally may choose at the polls to change party registration, if they wish, to vote in a different party's primary.
Residents of four counties essentially have no deadline for voter registration this year. Lee said Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Kane counties chose to participate in a pilot project allowed by the Legislature to permit election-day registration.
"They can go to their correct polling place, show ID and proof of residency, and cast a provisional ballot" that will be counted, said longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. "We're pretty excited about that because in 2012, there were over 2,400 ballots that we couldn't count because people had tried to go to their polling place on election day but they had not been previously registered in the state."
McKenzie said election-day registration will be available in Davis County at the seven in-person voting centers it will have that day beyond its balloting by mail.
Swensen said the experiment will show whether election officials can handle registration on election day without being overwhelmed. She said some county clerks were concerned because in Idaho, polls had been swamped with people registering. But Idaho, she noted, does not offer online registration and closes preregistration 30 days early, so she predicts no flood of late registration here.
Primaries this month feature relatively few races, which tend to reduce turnout.
Salt Lake County, for example, has only two countywide primaries in a Republican county assessor race and a Democratic county auditor race. It also has just two legislative primaries one Democratic and one Republican and several nonpartisan races for various school boards.
Primary election twists
7 counties will vote primarily by mail: Davis, Beaver, Duchesne, Garfield, Grand, San Juan and Sevier.
4 counties will offer election-day registration: Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Kane.
Early voting begins Tuesday (in counties not voting by mail). Sites are online at vote.utah.gov.
Online voter registration continues through June 17 at vote.utah.gov for the June 24 primary.
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