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Not many races in Tuesday's primary election

Published: Sunday, June 22 2014 4:05 p.m. MDT

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News Archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Election officials don't expect many voters to turn out for Tuesday's primary election, especially since there are no congressional or statewide races on the ballot.

"It's going to be fairly low. And that's disappointing, of course, because we go to a lot of work and effort to put on a primary," Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said. "These offices are still really important."

But unlike higher-profile races, candidates for local government posts or the state Legislature usually don't have the money to spend on television commercials and other campaigning "that drive people to the polls," Swensen said.

Voter turnout for primary runoff elections in the state's largest county neared 20 percent in 2010 and 2012, but it has dipped as low as into the single digits in past election years.

Utah Director of Elections Mark Thomas said statewide turnout normally falls between 10 percent and 20 percent of registered voters. That could be higher, he said, with more counties, including Davis, relying on voting by mail.

Salt Lake, along with Weber, Davis and Kane counties, is participating in a pilot program approved by the Legislature that allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day and vote.

Swensen said 2,400 county residents showed up to vote in the 2012 general election despite not being registered. While they were allowed to cast provisional ballots, their votes were not counted, she said.

"It's exciting," Swensen said of the pilot program and its potential to impact voter turnout. "A lot of people just don't get around to getting registered. We'll see how this works out."

Primary elections are held when candidates can't secure a nomination at their political party conventions by winning at least 60 percent of the vote of delegates over their challengers.

"We don't have a lot of primaries in Utah," Thomas said, because most candidates are chosen at conventions. But come 2016, he said there are "big changes" coming that will mean more primaries — and, hopefully, more voter interest.

In two years, candidates will have an alternative path to the primary election ballot by gathering voter signatures. The new option for getting on the ballot is the result of a compromise reached during the last legislative session.

Count My Vote, a group seeking to replace the current caucus and convention system with a direct primary, agreed to end an initiative petition drive that could have put the issue before voters in November.

The compromise also lifts restrictions on unaffiliated voters participating in primaries. Currently, only registered Republicans can vote in GOP primaries, although Democrats allow all voters to cast ballots in their primaries.

This election year, all of the nominees for the U.S. House were decided at party conventions and neither U.S. Senate seat is up. The only statewide race is attorney general, but only a single candidate filed in each party.

There are seven primary legislative races, including intraparty challenges to Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, from former state Sen. Casey Anderson in District 28, and to Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, from former Rep. Brad Daw in District 60.

In Salt Lake County, former Auditor Jeff Hatch is hoping to win back his post but first faces Christopher Stout in a Democratic primary. The current auditor, Greg Hawkins, lost at the GOP county convention to Scott Tingley.

There is also a contentious GOP primary between Salt Lake County Assessor Kevin Jacobs and Jake Parkinson. Jacobs, who worked in the office, was appointed to the post when longtime county Assessor Lee Gardner stepped down last year.

Utah County voters will decide whether they want to stay with Jeff Buhman as county attorney or select Pleasant Grove City Councilman Ben Stanley as the GOP nominee. Buhman has held the post since being elected in 2006.

For more information about the primary election, go to vote.utah.gov.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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