Davis election official says big early vote turnout 'exciting'

Friday , October 26, 2012 - 5:27 PM

Shannon Dininny

SALT LAKE CITY— Thousands of Utah voters have cast ballots by mail and at early polling places, and elections officials hope even more turn out next week to reduce the likelihood of long lines on Election Day.

More than 1.2 million Utah residents have registered to vote in the upcoming election. About 14,000 more registrations were being processed Friday after being filed by the deadline Monday.

Nearly 65,000 people have already voted early at polling sites across the state. Another 86,388 people have returned ballots by mail, topping the estimated 86,000 people who voted by mail in the 2008 election.

Together, those numbers show that roughly 12.5 percent of everyone registered has already voted, state election specialist Justin Lee said.

Many election officials say a presidential race that includes Republican nominee Mitt Romney — a candidate with ties to Utah — along with two high-profile congressional races, two constitutional amendments and a slew of local races should generate high interest among voters.

Davis County elections Director Pat Beckstead said the rate of voting had picked up Friday, after wintry weather appeared to slow turnout Thursday.

Early voting sites in the county reported long lines and waits for people during the first hour the polls were open, followed by a steady stream of voters.

"We’re finding people are getting there early," Beckstead said. "Even if the number of people voting early isn’t as high as we would like to keep down the lines on election night, people are eager."

Beckstead expects a big turnout overall.

"We’re encouraging people to get out now," she said. "And we really feel like next week is going to pick up. It’s exciting."

Early voting in Salt Lake County is on pace to include 40 percent of all voters who cast ballots in the election, Clerk Sherrie Swensen said.

"We’ve had an excellent response," she said. "That’s a good thing for Election Day, mostly because we get the after-work crowd from 5-8 p.m., and it tends to get a little busy at election polling sites then. This will definitely help defer some of the crowds."

Voters must have registered at least 30 days before Nov. 6 to cast ballots early. Unlike Election Day, when voters must go to their precinct, voters can go to any polling site in their county during the early voting period.

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