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What Utah’s early voting data tells us about the state and the election

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Voters drop their ballots in the vote-by-mail ballot drop box at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

Can the early vote tell us anything?

For the past few days — eager to stretch my legs as a data columnist who doesn’t just cover COVID-19 — I’ve been looking at voter spreadsheets that are millions of rows deep, sent to me by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

Essentially, I asked for the same data files that the state sends campaigns on a daily basis. We’re getting two lists:

1) those who are on Utah’s list to get a ballot, and

2) now that they’ve received them, those who have already turned them in and had their votes processed.

For the campaigns, the data files are the information needed to call, text, and send mailers to registered active Utah voters. Once people have voted, they generally stop the barrage.

For us at The Salt Lake Tribune, though, it’s a way to better understand Utah’s electorate and, importantly, those who have already voted. It’s still early in the game — some counties have yet to process any ballots, and overall, we’ve seen about 10-15% of them counted at this point — but the hope is that we’ll be able to pick up geographic and party trends to give us hints at the voting so far.

These files, I should note, do not include info from anyone who chose to keep their information private when registering. About 80% of voters kept their information public, though, so we’re getting the majority of the electorate.

With all the map data, I decided to use a Flourish story, embedded below, to allow me to zoom from place to place to show you what I discovered. The map also allows you to interact with it, so you can find out how voting is going in your neighborhood.
Make sure you click through each slide in the story to see what’s going on. Click here to view the story full-screen.

Interesting, right? This is just a first crack at the data, though. Moving forward, we’ll break Utah’s early vote down by city, congressional district and more. We’ll also be able to compare these votes to what happened in previous elections.

Finally, we’re also going to keep track of some failure points in voting — how many mail-in votes weren’t counted, and why the state says they didn’t pass muster.

It’s still very early, of course: online mail-in registration doesn’t end until Friday, and voters can even register on Election Day in person. We’ll be sure to keep you informed over the next two weeks.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist. He is also one of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utah Jazz beat writers. You can reach him at alarsen@sltrib.com.
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