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Monday is the deadline for by-mail ballots to be postmarked, but officials urge using a drop box instead

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

While Election Day technically is Tuesday, Monday is the final day for by-mail ballots to be postmarked in Utah.

Most election officials urge voters at this point to skip using the mail — and to deposit ballots directly into county drop boxes.

“I think they’re safer if they deposit in them in a ballot drop box,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. Her county has 21 of them. Sites of drop boxes statewide are listed online at vote.utah.gov.

Davis County Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch had the same message.

“I would encourage people on Monday to go to one of the 16 drop boxes located throughout Davis County and use them,” Koch said. “That’s the best way that I can guarantee that your ballot is going to be counted.”

Utah law requires that ballots sent through the mail must be postmarked — not just mailed — the day before the election. They are counted as long as they arrive before individual counties certify election results, which occurs one to two weeks later. The trick is how to ensure that ballots mailed on Monday receive a postmark.

“The best advice is for someone to physically take the ballot into the post office and make sure it’s stamped with that Nov. 2 date,” said Justin Lee, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “If you put it in the post office box outside the post office — the big blue box — that may not be postmarked until the next day, depending on when the pickup time is.”

People who miss mailing ballots by Monday will still be able to vote Tuesday.

They still may deposit ballots in county drop boxes before polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday or may take them to one of 119 in-person vote centers statewide that day. People may also pick up replacement ballots at those voting centers and may even register to vote there on Election Day, but officials warn that lines could be long.

“Please cast the ballot that was sent to you. It will make everybody’s life, including your own, much easier,” Koch said.

Davis County will have only one Election Day voting center, a drive-up operation at the Legacy Center in Farmington to reduce COVID-19 threats. It will have fast lines for those just dropping off ballots, but he said lines may be long for people seeking to replace ballots or register.

“If people choose to request another ballot, they’re going to receive the same ballot they received three weeks earlier, and they’re potentially going to sit in lines,” Koch said. “So please, if possible, use the ballot we sent you and put it in a drop box.”

Swensen said Salt Lake County will have 59 in-person voting centers on Election Day, again with sites listed on vote.utah.gov.

“We’re trying to be very conscientious about making sure that we have everything available that we can,” she said.

Swensen said she added some larger venues because of social distancing requirements and “we have doubled the number of poll workers that we’ve ever had since we’ve been on a vote-by-mail system.”

Some of the extra workers will help with disinfecting against COVID-19, and some will be line coordinators to help with social distancing — and will use tablets to check voter registration while people stand in line to help speed the process.

Still, Swensen urges voters to vote with their ballots sent by mail if at all possible. “We prefer they use drop boxes instead of crowding vote centers.”

Election officials say county drop boxes have become especially popular this year after President Donald Trump repeatedly railed against voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic — including saying that it would make this year’s elections “the most inaccurate and fraudulent in history.” Earlier cutbacks by the U.S. Postal Service nationally also created concerns about on-time delivery.

Lee said some counties in Utah have reported that 60% of their ballots have been returned via drop box instead of mail.

Swensen said her crews go out multiple times a day to collect ballots from drop boxes because they are so popular. Also one day last week, her county received twice as many ballots via drop box as through the mail.

“That’s never happened before,” she said.

Swensen predicts continuing heavy turnout for the election. “We could see 85%” of active registered voters casting ballots, she said.

There are nearly 1.7 million active voters registered in Utah. As of Saturday, the lieutenant governor’s office reported that 951,178 ballots had been processed. Four years ago, 1,131,340 Utahns voted. So turnout so far is 84% of what it was in 2016, with Election Day yet to arrive.

“Turnout has been great so far,” Lee said. “That is exactly what we wanted to see. We wanted to see people voting early and voting through the mail. If that continues, then we shouldn’t have the long lines that we are hoping to avoid on Election Day.”

The Utah Transit Authority is also offering free fares on any of its transit services on Tuesday to help people vote.

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