SALT LAKE CITY — A long and intense election season will close Tuesday with what some predict will be one of Utah's highest voter turnouts in recent years.
Lines were still long at polling stations around the state Friday as early voting came to a close. Justin Lee, an elections specialist in Utah Lt. Governor Greg Bell's office, said early voting brought in about 223,000 ballots with final votes still trickling in.
In addition to early voting, 130,000 absentee ballots had been received as of Friday, Lee said, indicating about 28 percent of Utah's registered and active voters had already been to the polls.
Those numbers show an increase of about 6,000 votes cast through early voting and absentee ballots as compared to the 2008 election, Lee said.
"We're already seeing higher voter turnout before the polls open, so we could see 3,4, or 5 percent higher than we have in previous years," Lee said.
About 100,000 absentee ballots are still outstanding, Lee said, meaning early turnout could reach as much as 43 percent and overall turnout could rise to above 70 percent.
Thomas Wright, chairman of the state Republican party, said at one point Republicans were comprising more than half of those early voters.
"That's very positive when Republicans turn out and vote early and vote by mail," Wright said. "One of our main goals is just to increase participation."
The Utah GOP registered 50,000 new mail-in voters this cycle, Wright said. He expects the trend of high Republican turnout will continue through Tuesday.
While Democrats couldn't keep up with early and mail-in voting, Utah Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis said he is anticipating blue voters will mobilize on Election Day.
"We're not always as successful as we'd like to be, but we're pretty confident they realize how important it is that we get out there and support Democratic candidates," Dabakis said. "I would think there will be very good numbers and large numbers on Election Day."
Voters should plan for lines at the polls Tuesday, especially just before and after regular work hours and at lunch time, Lee said.
"We could certainly see some long lines, so people should definitely be ready," Lee said. "If you can go in the non-peak hours then you'll certainly have a better chance of avoiding longer lines."
Election Day resources including polling locations, necessary I.D. and candidate information are available at vote.utah.gov, Lee said.
KSL weather specialists are forecasting sunny skies for Election Day with highs reaching 68 degrees in the afternoon as Utah enjoys some of its last warm autumn days.
Leaders from both major parties said Mitt Romney's race for the White House has impacted Utah races.
On the Republican side, Romney's bid has empowered candidates, pushed participation and garnered volunteers in an unprecedented way. Republicans in Utah made more than 50,000 phone calls Saturday encouraging people to vote, Wright said.
"There's never been a Saturday that's even come close to that with either party," Wright said. "This election is different. What happens with this election is going to determine the direction of our country, probably forever."
For the Democrats, Dabakis said Utah Dems have spent considerable amounts to get out the vote, enlist volunteers and raise money in preparation for what they hope is a once-in-a-generation storm: the Romney tidal wave.
"We have worked very hard and we're just bracing now to see how big the Mitt Romney tidal wave is," Dabakis said. "We feel comfortable, we feel good and we feel like we're going to win some races."
Tuesday will bring a close to an expensive campaign season in Utah that has been peppered with ominous TV ads.4 comments on this story
Wright said races that are critical of their opponents shouldn't necessarily be labeled as negative, although they may have been categorized as such.
"If we can't point out an elected official's voting record during their term in office … then we're going to have serious problem in this country," he said. "I think the tone has been good overall, I think there's been a lot of it and the volume has been significant, and that's what fatigued people."
With the exception of some congressional races, Dabakis said he thinks the tone of politics in the state has been normal.
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