Utahns are excited to vote, but how they do it may depend on their political party

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lannie Chapman, Chief Deputy Clerk, prepares primary election ballots for counting at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Wednesday July 1, 2020.

Utahns are eager to vote and many plan to do so well before Election Day.

A new statewide poll found that 47% of respondents say they will vote as soon as they are legally able to do so. That would be next week, when ballots will be mailed out.

The Y2 Analytics survey of 1,214 likely voters, conducted online from Sept. 26 to Oct. 4 and released Monday, also sheds light on how Utahns plan to vote as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.

The largest number of respondents, at 39%, said they planned to send in their ballot by mail before Election Day, while 34% planned to hand-deliver it to a voting center or polling place. But 22% said they still intend to vote in person on Nov. 3, and 4% said they would cast their ballot in person at an early polling location.

The survey results show that Utahns' voting plans differ based on party affiliation, a finding that comes as President Donald Trump has made an enemy of by-mail voting and argued the method would make this election “the most inaccurate and fraudulent in history.”

Officials in the Beehive State have long been proponents of mail-in voting, and Utah’s Republican voters don’t appear to have turned on the method altogether. But, at 32%, they are much more likely to say they plan to vote in person on Election Day than Democrats are, at 5%.

A larger share of Democrats say they plan to mail their ballot in before Election Day than Republicans, at 49% compared with 34%. And 43% of Democrats plan to hand-deliver their ballots, in contrast with 29% of Republicans.

As part of the poll, just over 50% of respondents said they believe the president is ensuring election integrity, while 48% said they thought he was encouraging election interference. The question comes as the president has persistently questioned the legitimacy of voting by mail.

Democrats were universally skeptical, with 100% saying they thought the president was encouraging interference. Republicans, on the other hand, were more likely to believe the opposite, with 84% saying they believed Trump was ensuring integrity of the electoral process.

Utah voters will have a number of options for casting their ballots this year, after state lawmakers passed a bill during a special session this summer that allowed counties to offer outdoor and in-person voting as well as drive-thru options, plus drop-box and mail-in balloting.

Justin Lee, Utah’s director of elections, said county clerks plan to encourage residents to vote by mail unless absolutely necessary to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“The only real reason people should come to the polls," he said, “is if they need help, they’ve lost a ballot or they never got their ballot for some reason.”

Lee said almost all of Utah’s 29 counties are planning for indoor in-person voting, though two counties, Davis and Tooele, are setting up drive-thru voting. Most clerks, he noted, didn’t want to plan for outdoor voting when considering the potential for cold weather in November, even as public health officials have noted that indoor activities pose a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

The main difference people will see in this election compared to those in years past, Lee said, “is a lot of the counties are going to be providing voters with a paper ballot and pointing them in the direction of a drop box, where they can drop that off, in a way to keep lines short.”

Poll workers will help keep people socially distanced and encourage the wearing of face masks, though most areas of the state are not under a mask mandate. Masks are currently required only in Grand, Salt Lake and Summit counties as well as in Logan and Springdale.

Ballots will begin going out in the next week (all active registered voters in Utah automatically receive their ballots in the mail), and Lee said clerks will be providing more detailed information to residents about how to vote. Utahns can also visit vote.utah.gov to register to vote, find voting centers and learn more about the plans in their area.

Unlike in many other states, Utahns have voted by mail for several years, so Lee said officials are expecting everything to run smoothly next month. In the March presidential primary and the June primary elections, more than 90% of people voted by mail, he noted, so a high number of by-mail ballots won’t pose a particular challenge.

The June election also saw record primary election turnout, and election officials are anticipating similarly high numbers of people will cast their ballots this fall. Lee said it could hit 90% this year, which would reflect the percentage of voters in the Y2 Analytics poll who said they definitely planned to vote in November.

“I would expect really big turnout,” he said, noting that there are currently more registered voters in the state than ever before. Plus, he said, “there are people who only turn out to vote in presidential election years, and I would expect that trend to continue.”

Just 1% of poll respondents said there was “no chance” they would vote next month.

The Utahns who participated in the survey also indicated a strong desire to cast their ballots sooner than later, with 47% indicating they’ll vote as soon as possible and 34% planning to vote toward the beginning or early on in the by-mail process. About 16% said they would wait until the end of the mail-in voting period, while 2% said they would hold off until the “last possible moment.”

If Utahns' early voting plans pan out, that could make it easier for election officials to have a solid number of ballots counted on election night — though Lee said it’s likely that it could take up until the two-week canvassing deadline to know who’s won in some of the closer races — as has happened in past election years.

“It’ll feel very normal for us here,” he said. “For races with a big margin, we’ll have a pretty good picture on election night. For very tight races, it could take a couple weeks.”

Experts and election officials have been cautioning voters that there may be a delay in determining a winner in the presidential race on election night, since so many people will be voting by mail across the nation.

The Y2 Analytics poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, showed Trump had a 10-point lead over Joe Biden in Utah. The number of respondents who said they were undecided was tiny and would make up about 1%.