Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox praises ‘ridiculous’ jump in Utah voter turnout after statewide canvass of election results

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Left to right, the state board of canvassers, including Treasurer David Damschen, Auditor John Dougall, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Justin Lee, director of the elections, certifed the final election results in the 4th Congressional District and other races, Nov. 26, 2018 in the Utah Capitol boardroom.

Voter turnout for this year’s midterm election in Utah hit a more than 50-year high, according to statewide numbers released Monday as part of the formal canvass of election results.

A total of 1,082,972 ballots were cast this year, which equates to 75.55 percent of active, registered voters and 52 percent of the state’s vote-eligible population.

“You’re going to have to go all the way down to 1962 to find anything near that in a midterm [year],” said Justin Lee, state elections director.

In raw numbers, the tally of ballots cast in 2018 is exceeded only by the 2016 presidential election, during which 82 percent of the state’s active registered voters participated. And the number of registered voters in the state grew by roughly 34,000 between Election Day and the final vote count, Lee said, as voters took advantage of new rules allowing same-day voter registration.

The number of active, registered voters in Utah is roughly 225,000 fewer than the state’s total number of registered voters.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees elections for the state, described the turnout as “incredible” and more akin to a presidential-election year than a traditional midterm election.

During the previous midterm election, in 2014, Utah saw a voter turnout rate of 46.25 percent, according to the state’s data.

“For a midterm election, it’s enormous turnout,” Cox said. “To go from 46 percent up to 75 percent is ridiculous."

Cox attributed voter participation to a number of factors, including the competitive race in Utah’s 4th Congressional District between outgoing Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, and Rep.-elect Ben McAdams and several statewide ballot initiatives.

One of those initiatives, Proposition 2, saw the highest number of total votes cast of any question on the ballot. It asked voters to approve the legalization of medical marijuana — passing with a majority of votes — and saw higher interest on the ballot than the statewide Senate election between Democrat Jenny Wilson and Republican Mitt Romney, a two-time presidential candidate.

“There’s no question that Prop 2 was a big driver,” Cox said. “Usually the Senate race would have been kind of the high water mark. It was very high, but Prop 2 was a little higher.”

Cox also attributed the big turnout to the national political climate, which saw increased levels of voter participation in many states.

“Certainly, having a president who is so controversial and every day is tweeting and getting people involved — for better or worse, whichever way you look at that,” Cox said, “definitely that’s driving things and getting people more engaged than they would normally be for a midterm election.”

President Donald Trump personally campaigned in several states in the lead-up to Election Day in an effort to boost Republican incumbents and candidates over their Democratic opponents. Election results saw Republicans maintain and slightly expand their majority in the Senate, while losing their majority in the House.

During a news conference the morning after Election Day, Trump described the results as a personal victory and criticized unsuccessful Republicans — including Love, by name — for failing to wholeheartedly embrace him and his administration in their campaigns.

“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

On Monday, Love publicly conceded the race, while firing pointed jabs at Trump, McAdams, the national Republican and Democratic parties and the news media.

Love said that by supporting her opponent, Utah had elected “a wolf in sheep’s clothing" and that she would need to chat with Trump about what he hoped to gain by mocking her loss.

"This gave me a clear vision of his world as it is. No real relationships, just convenient transactions,” Love said of Trump. “It is an insufficient way to implement sincere service and policy.”

After the vote counts were formally certified Monday, Cox expressed complete confidence in the final tallies. The state’s systems saw some cyberattacks surrounding the election, he said, but those attacks were unsuccessful and did not affect the vote.

“We were prepared for those,” Cox said.

While most races were called on or shortly after Election Day, a final determination in the 4th District and for the statewide vote on Prop 4 — which establishes an independent commission for redistricting — was not possible until the final day of county vote-processing.

Cox said he had no reason whatsoever to doubt the integrity of the count.

“I know people want those election results on election night,” Cox said. “But the fact that we were very methodical, we took our time, made sure every vote counted, we feel very confident with those.”

Among Utah’s 29 counties, Grand County reported the highest voter turnout rate at 84.5 percent of active, registered voters. Utah County had the lowest turnout rate, at 67.25 percent. Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous, saw turnout of 79.4 percent.