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Counties prepare for high turnout on Election Day

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 12:07 a.m. MDT

Curtis Christensen, left, and Jerry Marty and set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Curtis Christensen, left, and Jerry Marty and set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Preparations for Election Day began months before voters arrive at polling places Tuesday to make their choices for public office.

There were thousands of poll workers to train, thousands of voting machines to prime and thousands of ballot locations to line up. And because it's a presidential election year, county clerks needed a little more of everything to accommodate what they anticipate will be high voter turnout.

"This is an amazing process when you see what goes into it," said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who is overseeing her 51st election since taking office in 1991.

Swensen had to adjust voting precinct and polling sites to reflect the Utah Legislature redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries. The county sent notices to registered voters to let them know what districts they now live in and where they should go to vote.

Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"We don't want them to go back where they used to vote before redistricting," she said.

Voter information in all 29 counties, including polling locations and sample ballots, can be found on the state's website.

Salt Lake County conducted 60 training sessions for the 2,000 workers it hired to staff 323 polling places for the general election.

"We've basically used every machine we have, which is about 3,000," Swensen said.

Counties throughout the state have taken similar steps to get ready, though on a smaller scale.

"It's kind of a coordinated effort that takes about three or four months," said Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson.

Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Utah County bought an additional 400 electronic voting machines — it usually rents extras for the general election but found that buying cost the same — giving it 1,500 in all, Thompson said. The county employs about 1,000 poll workers, including more than 100 on standby to fill in for the inevitable no-shows.

"It's always surprising how many people have made the commitment, gone through the training and then just don't show up on Election Day," he said. "At the June primary, we had about 50 or 60."

Thompson said the county places more ballot machines in some locations based on voting history and past demand to cut down on wait times. It also increases staffing as needed to ease bottlenecks during the check-in process.

Curtis Christensen, left, and Jerry Marty and set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Curtis Christensen, left, and Jerry Marty and set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Both Thompson and Swensen anticipate high voter turnout due to the presidential election.

"I think we'll hit 75 percent easily," Swensen said.

Thompson figures on 80 percent in Utah County, though he said it surprised him to see turnout drop off in 2008 as East Coast results and exit polling numbers came in.

Swensen pointed out that residents who have moved within the state but are not registered in their new precinct may still vote. Polling places have provisional paper ballots on hand, which can be obtained with valid ID and something such as a utility bill that shows their name and address.

Also, Salt Lake County has ballots available in Spanish for the first time at a general election. It is one of 248 jurisdictions nationwide that must provide language assistance during elections for voters who are unable to speak or understand English well enough to participate in the electoral process.

Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Poll workers set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Meanwhile, the Disability Law Center's voting hotline will start accepting calls at 7 a.m. Tuesday for people with disabilities who have questions about voting or encounter problems casting ballots. The hotline, 800-662-9080, will be staffed until 8 p.m.

"Part of the work we do in advocating for people with disabilities is securing their voting rights," said Disability Law Center advocate Chris Serrrano. "Otherwise, people who have physical, visual and sometimes intellectual disabilities won't be able to vote if they don't have access to a polling place, so it's important."

Sherri Newton, director of the center's voting access program, said volunteers and advocates will visit polling places in 14 Utah counties Tuesday, partly to follow up previous visits when access issues were identified and to assist voters and poll workers.

Poll manager Kathy Huish and Jerry Marty set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Poll manager Kathy Huish and Jerry Marty set up booths for Tuesday's election at Wheeler Historic Farm on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

The agency is also asking voters with disabilities to share their voting experiences on its website.

"We want to hear the good and bad," Newton said.

The information will help refine future advocacy efforts and help county clerks better meet the needs of voters.

Contributing: Marjorie Cortez

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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