Wasatch Front county clerks seeing low voter turnout ahead of Tuesday primary

Days ahead of this year’s municipal primary elections, early voting and by-mail ballot turnout along the Wasatch Front are slightly lower than expected, according to county election officials.

“It’s low,” Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. Voters “may not know about the candidates, just waiting to make up their minds; they’re in the middle of summer vacation. I don’t know, it’s just not on their radar, perhaps, and they’re waiting until the last thing.”

Though off-year election turnout tends to be smaller, as is primary turnout, Swensen said she expected more than 17% of ballots would be returned by now ahead of Tuesday’s election, particularly with a handful of mayor’s races in the county.

Salt Lake City’s race is the hottest of those, with eight candidates — including a current and former state senator and a current councilwoman and former councilman — facing off in an expensive race to replace Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who is not running for reelection.

Swensen said that while turnout in the capital city was slightly higher than average — at 22.75% as of Friday afternoon — it was still not as high as she’d anticipated.

“I was estimating that Salt Lake City would have at least between 40% and 50% turnout when we’re all said and done, so I expected more ballots by now,” she said.

Recent polls have indicated that many voters in the race are still undecided.

The newly incorporated town of Brighton will have a chance to choose from three candidates to elect its first mayor. Contenders for that seat include R. Wade Lambert, a longtime resident; Dan Knopp, who owns the Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant; and Don O. Despain, former owner of the Brighton Village Store and manager of a sewer district there.

West Jordan will also elect a new top leader this year after residents voted in 2017 to switch from a council-manager to a strong mayor.

The new form of government, which gives the mayor the power to hire or remove department heads and to veto council initiatives, will take effect in 2020 — cutting short the term of Mayor Jim Riding, who was elected in 2017. He’s running for reelection against two council members: Alan R. Anderson, who represents District 4, and Dirk Burton of District 2.

Millcreek, which became one of Utah’s newest cities in 2016, is also having an off-season election for mayor, though that race does not require a primary election. Incumbent Jeff Silvestrini is running for a full term against Angel Vice, who currently works for youth services as an advocate for children in state custody.

Alta and South Jordan, along with Millcreek, are the only cities in the county that will not require primary elections.

In Utah County, voter turnout was even lower than Salt Lake County, with 13% of ballots returned as of Friday afternoon, according to Elections Director Rozan Mitchell. That makes it seem unlikely, she said, that the county will reach its goal of 25% to 30% turnout overall.

“It’s lower than I really want it to be,” she said.

The county has primaries in nine of its 24 cities: Highland, Lehi, Mapleton, Orem, Pleasant Grove, Provo, Santaquin, Springville and Eagle Mountain. All but Provo are citywide.

“Municipal elections are really important,” Mitchell said, encouraging residents to turn in their ballots. “I think people don’t always realize that those people that they’re voting on in a municipal year that are going to run their city have a bigger impact on their day to day lives than voting for, say, president of the United States or something like that.”

In Weber County, eight of the 15 cities there have primaries. Election Director Ryan Cowley said about 15,000 residents have cast votes overall — a 19% turnout he says is in line with what the county needs to reach the 25% to 30% that is typical for an off-year election.

“It’s been pretty much what we’ve expected at this point,” he said.

The primary race for mayor in Ogden doesn’t appear to be driving turnout in Weber County, Cowley noted, though he anticipated that would change in November, when voters will have their choice between the two candidates who make it out of Tuesday’s primary.

Contenders in that race are incumbent Mayor Mike Caldwell; Angel Castillo, a planning commissioner for the city; Daniel Tabish, an entrepreneur who once owned the former Ben Lomond Hotel; and John Thompson, who has run unsuccessfully for multiple offices in the city.

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

Voters can drop their completed mail-in ballots in their sealed envelopes any time before Tuesday at 8 p.m. at voting centers or drive-up drop boxes.

People who miss the Monday postmark deadline can still drop their completed mail-in ballots in the sealed envelopes Tuesday at voting centers or at drive-up drop boxes some counties offer. In Utah County, voters are issued paper ballots at the polls.

Polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, where voters will be able to cast their vote. To find the closest voting center, fill out your address in 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 cast a provisional ballot in person on Tuesday.