SALT LAKE CITY — More than 28 percent of all Utah voters in the Nov. 2 general election cast their ballots early, according to the lieutenant governor's office.
That's more than double the just under 13.5 percent that either voted early or sent in an absentee ballot in the last midterm election, in 2006.
"This is a game changer," said Mark Thomas, state elections director, because candidates will have to "try to figure out how to run their campaigns knowing this many people are voting early."
In the past election, he said, many campaigns were already tracking early voters along with those casting absentee ballots to see who still needed to be nudged to the polls.
"It certainly changes the dynamics of campaigning," said pollster Randy Shumway, owner of Dan Jones & Associates. "Simply relying on a day-of get out the vote (effort) will likely be insufficient in the future."
Shumway, who does polling for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, said the numbers of early voters "definitely affected how we polled this year." He said he expects even more Utahns will chose convenience and "crowd mitigation" in the future.
Thomas predicted the number of early voters will continue to increase until it hits about 50 percent. He noted that in the 2008 presidential election, some 40 percent of the voters cast their ballots early.
That larger turnout may have been the results of voters making up their minds about the candidates sooner rather than later. This year, though, voters were more indecisive.
"What we're seeing and what we've heard from people is, 'I just don't know who to vote for and I wanted to wait until Election Day,' " Thomas said, especially in the 2nd District race for Congress.
While Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Salt Lake, won re-election, his GOP challenger, Morgan Philpot, saw a surge in the polls just before the election. The race was close enough that Philpot waited a day to concede.
In 2006, Utah began allowing voters to cast their ballots early at various polling locations to limit the number of new voting machines that needed to be purchased. Without the change, Thomas said, the state would have to have two to three times as many voting machines as the 8,000 now in use to accommodate all voters on Election Day.
"What's most important is just giving voters options," Thomas said. "I don't think it's a large group that will just vote only early now."
Increasing number of Utahns going to the polls early
Voted early: 57,782
Voted absentee: 20,728
Voted Election Day: 504,051
13.47% voted before Election Day
Voted early: 91,934
Voted absentee: 89,649
Voted Election Day: 444,4963 comments on this story
28.29% voted before Election Day
*Not official. Some counties have not yet completed entering all of the information into the state database.
Source: Lieutenant Governor's Office
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