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Mail-only voting causes turnout to skyrocket in Duchesne County

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 5:21 p.m. MDT

DUCHESNE — Tray after tray of mail-in ballots are already sitting in the Duchesne County Clerk-Auditor's Office, just waiting to be counted.

"I love seeing this type of return," said chief deputy clerk JoAnn Evans.

"It's a lot of work for our office, but it's well worth it when everybody gets to have their say when they vote," she said.

This spring the county became the first in the state to eliminate all of its polling places on Election Day, going exclusively to mail-in voting. The move was made after the Utah Legislature carved the county up into three state House districts in the redistricting process.

The county had been entirely in House District 54. After redistricting — which must take place every 10 years and is based on U.S. Census data — it was divided between House districts 53, 55 and 69. 

That division had residents concerned that they'll never have enough delegate votes to successfully nominate someone from the county for one of the three state House seats.

But if mail-in balloting improves voter turnout, as it has in states like Oregon, the political parties in the county would be able to send more delegates to their state conventions because the county would have a greater percentage of the total votes statewide.

"The more votes we have to go toward the specific person who could represent Duchesne County for our betterment, the better off we are to get them in office," Evans said, explaining the county's logic.

That logic appears to be sound.

In June's primary election, only Piute County had a higher percentage of voter turnout, with 56 percent of its registered voters casting ballots, according to the office of Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.

Duchesne County — which converted to mail-only ballots before the primary vote — saw its percentage of voter turnout go from about 18 percent in 2008 to 41 percent in 2012, Evans said.

"It was a huge, huge difference," she said, noting that the trend seems to be continuing into this year's general election.

The statewide percentage for early voting for the general election presently stands somewhere near 30 percent, Evans said. Based on the ballots that have already been returned, Duchesne County's current voter turnout stands at 42 percent.

"And we still have 11 days to go" until Election Day, she said. "I'm expecting we'll have 70 to 75 percent (turnout) on this election."

On the high end, that would amount to a 17 percent increase in turnout over the 2008 presidential election, Evans said. And while that makes county officials happy, not everyone is a fan of voting only by mail.

"(My ballot) might be lost in the mail," Duchesne County voter Don Sawyers said. "If I go to a voting booth, I know it's going to be counted."

Sawyers' concern, and others like it, are easily addressed, Evans said. The ballot envelopes are scanned as they come in, allowing the clerk's office to let registered voters know if a ballot has been received.

"They can call us at any time and ask if it's been returned to us," she said.

Each registered voter in the county received a ballot in the mail weeks before the election, Evans said. It included an affidavit the voter must sign using the signature the county has on file.

When the completed ballot is returned to the county, the signed affidavit is removed so that the anonymity of the voter is maintained, Evans said. Ballots must be postmarked no later than one day before Election Day. Evans' office cannot begin tallying the votes until the polls open the following morning.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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