Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Early voting locations open for business Tuesday as election officials aim to take a bite out of record voter numbers in Salt Lake County and high numbers statewide.
On Monday, the final day of registration for the Nov. 6 election, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said a record 539,000 people were registered on the voter rolls for the county, with more arriving every hour.
"The drive-through is moving constantly," Swensen said. "We've seen a steady flow."
Included in that number are 101,000 inactive voters — registered individuals who have not participated in an election for at least four years — and 34,000 new registrations added to the rolls since July. Swensen said official numbers for the July-October period are not tracked, but 34,000 registrations is an increase over previous years.
In Utah County, chief deputy clerk/auditor Scott Hogensen said registration and total voter numbers are higher than recent presidential election years but not by an overwhelming margin.
Whatever added interest Republican presidential candidate and Utah favorite Mitt Romney may have brought to this election season was likely present to some degree four years ago, when Romney was a significant challenger to eventual nominee John McCain, Hogensen said.
A larger trend this year, he said, is the growth in voters who are expected to take advantage of absentee or vote-by-mail ballots.
Four years ago, Utah County received roughly 10,000 mailed ballots, Hogensen said. This year, he expects the number to double, landing somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000.
When combined with early voting locations, Hogensen said he expects a 25 percent increase in the number of Utah County voters who elect to circumvent the hassle and long lines of Election Day.
Hogen said both major political parties have made a concerted effort into encouraging absentee, or vote-by-mail, ballots. Another reason for the increase, he said, is that fewer voters appear to be undecided in their votes than past election cycles.
"I think, particularly with this election, more voters have made their minds up early, and they just want to get it done, get it over with," Hogen said.
Swensen said her office has seen a similar increase in vote-by-mail ballots in Salt Lake County, though she believes it has more to do with the convenience of the process than decided voters.
Like all presidential election years, she said, the names at the top of the ballot generate the most interest and attention, but there are still state, school board and county contests on which voters must educate themselves.
Only 33,000 of the 128,000 ballots mailed out have so far been returned, which Swensen says suggests voters are still making up their minds on candidates.
"They may have made up their minds about the presidential election," she said, "but there's a lot of other races."
Swensen said she expects the vote-by-mail option to continue to grow. She said elections officials have worked to make the process as convenient as possible, such as allowing voters to select vote-by-mail when they register online and offering automatic enrollment, which ensures that ballots are automatically mailed to them each year.
"Everyone I've talked to, they just love it," Swensen said. "They can study (the ballot), and it gives them more time."
She also said vote-by-mail ballots contribute to higher voter turnout in non-presidential election years. During last year's municipal elections, Salt Lake County saw a 19 percent voter turnout, Swenson said. But for the 65,000 voters who requested a mailed ballot, 50 percent were returned.
"People who vote by mail vote in higher turnout numbers," she said. "People really don't have time to stand in line."
Swensen said voters have until Nov. 2 to request a mailed ballot. Early voting locations also are open to any registered county resident, independent of their voting precinct, but voters must present a valid identification.
For those who missed Monday's registration deadline, Swensen said voters who need only to change their address can still vote on Election Day with a provisional ballot.
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