Election Day isn’t until Tuesday, but Utah voter turnout is already strong

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

SALT LAKE CITY — More than half a million Utahns have already turned out to vote ahead of Election Day, according to state officials.

But even after those early votes are counted, people may have to wait a few days to hear who won tightly contested races like the one between Republican Rep. Mia Love and Democrat Ben McAdams.

Around 550,000 people have already voted as of Friday afternoon, representing 40 percent of registered voters in Utah, said Justin Lee, state director of elections.

That’s compared to a total of about 46 percent of voters who cast their ballots overall in the 2014 election, Lee said.

“And we haven’t even hit Election Day yet. The numbers are certainly looking up,” he said.

Improved turnout for the midterm election appears to be happening across the country. More than 30 million Americans have cast early ballots, according to the Associated Press, eclipsing the 2014 early totals nationally. At least 28 states have surpassed their 2014 early votes.

Lee said he has only heard of a few small problems “here and there” that county clerks are working through.

“With voting, polling locations being available on Election Day, any voter who has issues or thinks there may be an issue can always go vote on Election Day” instead of early voting, Lee explained.

County clerks are now processing early ballots, and then they’ll start tabulating them on Tuesday using high-speed scanners.

“They can process a lot of the ballots when a lot of the front end work has been done on Election Day,” Lee said.

Mail-in voting in 27 of Utah’s 29 counties has created more work for county clerks because mail-in ballots that get dropped at polling places or sent by mail close to Election Day must be verified and counted in a time-consuming process, Lee said.

For those in Salt Lake County who forgot to send in their ballots and want to beat potential crowds at the polls on Election Day, early in-person voting continues through Monday.

Lee said officials are unsure what voter turnout will look like on Monday, the last day for early voting.

“We really don’t have a baseline for what a by-mail election looks like here in Utah … so we certainly expect to see more ballots come in,” but officials are not sure how many, he said.

On Tuesday, in-person polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you aren’t already registered to vote, no worries — you can register on Election Day at the polls by bringing a valid ID and proof of residence, such as a utility bill showing your name and address.

To find out the closest polling site to you, enter your address at vote.utah.gov. You can also track your ballot on the same website.

If a Utah race is too close to call on Election Night — a possibility in the tight contest between Republican Rep. Mia Love and Democrat Ben McAdams — candidates and voters will have to hold their breath while waiting to hear the results.

The lieutenant governor’s office asks county clerks to follow a vote release schedule created in 2016 that includes a delay until a Friday afternoon dump of results, designed to allow county clerks time to tally ballots in an organized and proper manner without being hounded by campaigns and news organizations to release votes every day, Lee said.

“We’re far more concerned with making sure the counties have the time get it right, than to get it done fast,” Lee said.

That’s one way Utah differs from many other states, which release voting results as they come in, said Wendy Underhill, director of elections at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah appears to be in the minority in delaying it, though there may be advantages to a more cautious approach, she said.

Utah counties are not required to follow the vote release schedule. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told the Associated Press she plans to release votes one day earlier, on Thursday. Her county accounts for about four-fifths of registered voters in Love’s district.

Utah County, which has the second-largest portion of voters in Love’s district, with 14 percent, will wait until Friday because protecting the integrity of the election is most important, County Clerk Bryan Thompson said.

“I understand that everyone wants to know, but if we have issues and there are mistakes, that calls things into question,” Thompson said to the AP.

Two other counties have 1 percent of the voters in the district: Juab and Sanpete counties. Juab County will do another release Wednesday, said county clerk Alaina Lofgran. Sanpete County will wait until the following Tuesday, Nov. 13, because of a lack of staffing, County Clerk Sandy Neill said.

Even if people are clamoring for more votes in the Love-McAdams race, which could decide control of Congress, Lee said the state won’t deviate from its plan.

“From our perspective, we don’t care,” Lee said. “I’m being a little flippant with that, but I mean, nothing matters even for Congress’ perspective until we do an official certification of results.”

State and counties don’t certify results until the official vote canvass two weeks later, but news organizations such as The Associated Press regularly call races on election night based on statistical models, demographics, the number of absentee ballots and political issues that may affect the outcome of races.

Lee said he thinks voters are better served by getting large dumps of votes rather than a trickling of votes to avoid tight races appearing to flip back and forth.

“No matter how often we release them, it seems like people want them more often,” Lee said. “I think what people would like to see, and I don’t think it’s practical or feasible, is a live stream of results.”

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

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