You may soon be getting an absentee ballot application in the mail — but you don't have to apply for an absentee ballot. Even if you do, you don't have to use it if you change your mind and decide to later vote in person.

Both the state Republican and Democratic parties are sending out thousands of absentee ballot applications to Utahns they have identified as interested in voting for their candidates, sources told the newspaper.

While the party-sponsored, voter identification/voter turnout efforts are not new to 2008, they have become "much more sophisticated," said Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.

What the political parties are sending to your house is not the ballot itself. Only your county elections officer can mail you a ballot. It is an application that you fill out, if you want, and send in to your county clerk to get the official ballot mailed to you at a later date.

Absentee ballots won't be mailed from the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office, for example, to individuals requesting them until Oct. 6.

James Evans, Salt Lake County GOP chairman, said the Republicans are getting their early voting lists from various sources, including tips from candidates who are walking their districts, finding likely GOP voters, and from various "data mining" operations.

Taylor said the Internet, automatic telephone polling and several other high-tech operations have changed the way political parties and other groups handle their turn-out-the-vote efforts.

"It has become a monthlong operation" through October before the early-November election, he said. That's because nearly a decade ago, state officials decided to let Utahns vote early in person at designated polling places, vote a no-excuse absentee ballot, and let anyone send out absentee ballot applications.

In Salt Lake County in 2006, 7,200 residents voted absentee and 27,000 people voted early in person, out of the 227,000 ballots cast, said Jason Yocom, county chief deputy clerk.

Taylor said the absentee ballot program by his party is not an effort to get to voters early so they can't change their minds closer to Election Day — and either decide not to vote or to vote for someone other than the Democrat.

"Historically, you use your early-voting efforts on those who have already made up their minds" — core Democrats or core Republicans. "You want to help make sure that they participate in the election."

The person could be home-bound or travel frequently and not be home on Election Day or just find it more convenient to vote by mail, election officials said.

However, it also only makes sense that if, through polling/voter identification, you find someone willing to be persuaded to vote for your candidate, you also send them an absentee ballot application on the heels of that voter identification.

That person may ask for a ballot and cast that ballot for your candidate before he could hear contravening information that may make him less likely to vote for your candidate, or last-minute negative campaigning could make the citizen decide not to vote at all.

Evans accused local Democrats of just that. "They are push polling against our candidates and then sending" those who may lean Democratic an absentee ballot application. "We are not doing that. We still believe there are more Republicans than Democrats, even in Salt Lake County, and we just want to turn out our voters," said Evans.

(Democrats deny they are "push polling," saying in some races they are calling citizens with a "persuasive voter ID poll.")

In legislative races where candidates are not well-known and where candidates leaflet their districts a week or so before Election Day, early voting may blunt some of that traditionally late campaigning — and also could blunt the effects of any last-minute negative campaigning.

However, Taylor said while early voting may be increasing in Utah, "70 percent to 75 percent of Utahns will still go to the polls on Election Day" — this year, Nov. 4.

Taylor declined to say how many absentee ballot applications the state Democratic Party is sending out. But he adds if they get 15 percent of those citizens to vote absentee, "that is considered a very good response rate."

Evans, likewise, wouldn't say how many absentee balloting applications the GOP will send out. "It is an ongoing operation — and I can say we don't have the money the Democrats do," said Evans.

Yocom said county clerks encourage registered voters to vote early, either through in-person voting at satellite polling places or by mail.

"We just don't have enough (voting) machines, and with the 80 percent turnout expected in this presidential year, there could be some long lines" on Election Day, which could discourage some from voting or just make for unhappy voters, he said.

Finally, even if you apply for and receive an absentee ballot, you don't have to use that ballot. But if you want to vote in person, either through early polling or on Election Day, you have to bring that absentee ballot with you to the polling place and "surrender" it so there's no possibility of voting twice. Then you can vote in person.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com