‘Dismally slow’ mail-in and early voting raises fears of long lines for Tuesday election in Utah

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune In this file photo, a voter drops her ballot at an official ballot drop box that doesn't need a post date at the Salt Lake County complex on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. With just days until this year's general election, early voting and vote-by-mail turnout in Salt Lake County is lower than expected, and Utah County turnout has also been “lagging.”

With just days until next Tuesday’s general election, early voting and vote-by-mail turnout in Salt Lake County is lower than expected — raising concerns the county may see a repeat of the long lines voters experienced in last year’s presidential election. Utah County turnout has also been “lagging.”

So far, Salt Lake County has received about 82,000 of over 446,000 ballots sent out, according to County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. That’s an 18 percent turnout rate.

Turnout at the county’s 10 early voting locations has also been “dismally slow,” she said. As of Monday evening, only 277 people had voted.

“That makes me concerned about Election Day,” she said — particularly if voters “show up and flood our polling places that are not meant for traditional polling.”

Last year, Swensen estimated about 45,000 people who arrived at voting centers on Election Day had been mailed a ballot, likely contributing to wait times of over two hours in some locations.

“We heard last year that, you know, some people just like the traditional day of going to a polling place,” she said. “But these aren’t our polling places that are in the neighborhood and you’re going to see your friends there. These are vote centers.”

Those vote centers, she said, are primarily meant for those who need an Americans with Disabilities Act audio ballot, who misplaced their ballot or didn’t receive one.

Most cities in Salt Lake County have mayoral races this year, and Swensen is anticipating a 45 to 50 percent turnout overall. Murray has the highest voter turnout of all the cities so far, with 25 percent returned ballots.

“Let’s put it this way — they’re all low,” she said, laughing.

In Utah County, Clerk Bryan Thompson said turnout has been higher than in a normal municipal election year because of the special 3rd Congressional District race to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who resigned in June.

The county has received just under 40,000 ballots so far, putting it at an 18 percent return rate.

“Turnout is probably just lagging a little bit, but it’s pretty much fitting our models and what we’re expecting,” Thompson said.

Typically, municipal elections in Utah County generate about a 12 to 20 percent turnout. This year, Thompson said he’s expecting to see that number jump between 30 to 40 percent.

“What drives people to go to the polls is what’s on the ballot, which is kind of unfortunate,” he said. “We really do need people to understand turnout in municipal years is just as important.”

Thompson and Swensen said many voters may just be waiting until the last minute to return their ballots.

During the primary in Utah County, Thompson said the last 40 percent of the votes received were postmarked Nov. 6 or deposited into the ballot box on Election Day.

Know before you vote

Swensen and Thompson recommended those who have received ballots in the mail to return them sooner rather than later. Vote-by-mail ballots need to be postmarked by Monday, the day before the election, to be counted.

People who miss postmarking Monday may still drop their completed mail-in ballots in the sealed envelopes Tuesday at voting centers or at drive-up drop boxes some counties offer.

Polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, where voters will be able to cast their vote on an electronic voting machine. To find the closest voting center, input your address at vote.utah.gov.

The last day those who have never been registered to vote in Utah can register is Tuesday. Those who have previously been registered in the state but have changed addresses can call their county of residence until Monday to either register or update their address in order to vote in person.

Those previously registered to vote in Utah who don’t have their registration updated prior to the election can vote provisionally in person on Tuesday. No counties will offer Election Day voter registration now that a state law allowing that has expired.