SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns continued to file into polling places Tuesday to cast their ballots in a crucial 2010 midterm election, despite several problems reported throughout the state.
Historically some of the lowest voter turnout rates are reported during midterm elections. But Utah's elections director Mark Thomas predicted up to a 60 percent turnout this year.
Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said voter participation generally appeared to be strong in the morning, but slowed by the afternoon.
"There have been few problems reported to us on this Election Day as of 1 p.m. We are pleased to say that election officials have been very responsive and in some case have proactively reported the problems directly to us here at the Democratic Party," he said.
Among the problems elections and political leaders were facing include:
Local school board candidates were left off the ballot in two precincts in Iron County. The candidates were later added to the appropriate ballots, according to Taylor. "However, there may have been some ballots cast in those two precincts that did not include the contest," he said.
Heavy usage crashed the state's voter information website Monday night, preventing voters from looking up their voting location. The state's voter information website, vote.utah.gov, had so many hits on its server Monday night, the site just couldn't handle the traffic.
The Utah lieutenant governor's office said the server received 200,000 hits per second, causing the site to first crash around 8 p.m. That's not 200,000 people, but perhaps just frustrated users clicking multiple times on the site.
IT personnel were trying to fix the problem, and at one point they had it back up and working, but then it crashed again early Tuesday.
"In the past we have had a lot of people on our website. We know this is the one day out of the year that we will get a lot, but the good thing to know is that it is up now, we are watching it, we are monitoring it, we have put some extra hardware behind it; and I think we are in good shape," said state elections director Mark Thomas.
In Utah County, card encoders not working properly prevented voters from using voting machines.
When the polls opened at 7 a.m., all of the 110 polling locations in Utah County were running into the same problem.
"It was the cards," said downtown Provo assistant poll manager Annie Erickson. "As soon as someone would put a card in (the voting machine), it wouldn't bring up the election; it would reject the card."
"We had a problem with the security card that is run through the encoders. It appears to be a programming glitch," said Utah County Clerk Auditor Bryan Thompson. "The poll managers instituted plan 'B' which was to go ahead and utilize one of the (voting) machines as an encoder."
Thompson says the problem was taken care of quickly at some polling locations, but took longer to correct at others.
The problem caused a residual delay, meaning long lines at many polling locations.
The county IT department that created the program for the cards was looking to find what caused the glitch.
At some polling locations voters were told to wait or asked to come back when the problem was fixed. Paper ballots were also given as an option in some locations.
"We just asked them to be patient," said Erickson. "They were very patient."
Late openings and slow startups of machines were reported at the Ice Sheet in Ogden and Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Taylor said. Some voters were reported to have left the Ice Sheet without voting. Others had a wait time of up to 40 minutes. Voting machines were not up and running until 7:45 a.m. Other locations reportedly used paper ballots while election workers tried to gain access to polling buildings.
There have been some complaints about candidate signs too close to polling locations (unspecified Murray location, Brookwood and Oakdale Elementary Schools in Sandy). Also widely reported are unauthorized candidate signs on private property, church property and public rights-of-way throughout the state, according to Taylor.
About 12 percent of all registered voters in Utah cast a ballot in early voting prior to Tuesday. That's nearly twice the number that voted early in the 2006 midterm election.
However, political pollster Randy Shumway says it's unlikely to affect overall turnout. "I would say that represents people who have discovered that they can vote on their schedule. There's research that early voting does not increase the actual number of eventual voters," he said.
Utah used to have one of the best voter turnouts in the country. Recently it's had one of the worst. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said that needs to change.
"We ought to have a majority of the people voting and a majority of the people eligible to vote in order to keep democracy healthy," he said.
He suggests parents need to start setting the example because if they don't vote, there's a good chance their children won't vote in the future.
Several races are helping generate interest in this election, including those for the U.S. Senate and congressional races. Republican Mike Lee and Democratic challenger Sam Granato are vying for Bob Bennett's U.S. Senate seat.
The increasingly close 2nd District congressional race between Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Republican Morgan Philpot also is attracting interest.
In Utah's gubernatorial race, Gov. Gary Herbert is trying to win a term in his own right. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is challenging him in a special election for the remaining two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term. Huntsman resigned in August 2009 to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Candidates are expected to work to get the attention of voters headed to the polls Tuesday.
Voters statewide will consider four amendments to Utah's state constitution:
Amendment A requires all elections in the state to be by secret ballot — including those for labor union representation.
Amendment B specifies residency requirements for anyone appointed to be a state senator or representative.
Amendment C provides a property tax exemption for certain property owned by nonprofit entities if it's used to irrigate land or provide water.
Amendment D establishes a five-member ethics commission to review complaints of unethical legislative behavior.
Polls will close at 8 p.m.
After the polls close tonight, get the latest election results at deseretnews.com.
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