PROVO — Utah County voters reported continued confusion at the polls Tuesday after more than 68,000 unaffiliated voters received incorrect mail-in primary election ballots.
While unaffiliated voters could still cast ballots in the Republican 3rd Congressional District primary race, those who received the incorrect ballot had to bring that ballot to a polling station and choose to affiliate as a Republican to vote in the GOP primary.
The situation was confusing for some voters who either discarded the ballot or already sent it in, not knowing their vote in the Republican primary would not be counted unless they went to the polls to affiliate with the party.
Utah County elections officials made efforts to correct the issue and clear up confusion by sending out nearly 70,000 mailers, informing those unaffiliated voters that they could bring their ballots to the polls, affiliate with the Republican Party and cast a vote in the 3rd District race.
Lindon resident Joy Sidwell mailed in her ballot, thinking she had voted in the Republican primary election. But then she received a card in the mail from Utah County that made her think otherwise.
“There was all the stuff coming out saying everything was invalid,” she said.
It turned out that Sidwell, like thousands of other Utah County residents, received a Republican ballot even though she was not affiliated with any party.
At the polling place Tuesday, she registered as a Republican and voted in the primary, knowing this time her vote counted. She wonders if others figured out what to do.
“I think maybe a lot of people got this stuff and didn’t know whether to vote, so a lot of people might not have voted because they were confused too,” Sidwell said.
Poll manager Suzanne Wilson said “there’s a little confusion” over the county mailing the wrong ballots, but only a couple of people have asked about it.
In Orem, “lots” registered at the polling place as Republicans to vote in the primary, said poll manager Sheri Tolman.
“Others have come in upset they can’t affiliate” because they already belong to a party, she said.
Tuesday’s primary was the first time Utah County used mail-in ballots. Still, some people preferred to bring in their ballot. Orem had three boxes full of dropped-off ballots of compared with only one box of ballots filled out at the polling center.
Some Utah County voters didn’t realize there was only one polling center per city, and some weren't sold on voting by mail. Pleasant Grove resident Douglas Ellis went to a couple of public schools before finding his way to the city offices.
“I don’t want to do mail-in. I want to go down there an actually pull the trigger,” he said.
Ellis said his wife mailed her ballot only to see that one of the people she voted for in the city election dropped out afterward, “so her vote just hasn’t been counted.”
Provo might have had the busiest polling center in Utah County, with about 40 people waiting in line just 20 minutes before the polls closed. City Recorder Janene Weiss said that might have to do with the Provo School District starting classes Tuesday, leaving many people unable to make it in the morning.
Coupled with the mail-in ballots, Weiss said she expects voter turnout to be “fantastic” in Provo.
Several groups, including Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Action Utah and Salt Lake Indivisible, attempted to inform unaffiliated voters of their opportunity to cast a vote in the Republican primary.
Mormon Women for Ethical Government sent out a news release before polls closed Tuesday that raised concerns of unaffiliated voters being turned away and included social media comments from confused voters.
One commenter said she had argued with poll workers, insisting that she had registered as a Republican but left discouraged, having only voted for the nonpartisan mayoral and city council races.
"We've been working really hard just to try to make sure that all eligible voters in the 3rd Congressional District understand that they have a right to cast a vote," said Sharlee Mullins Glenn, of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. "So for them to then show up at the polls and for some of them to be told 'no you can't' has been discouraging."
Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson said poll workers resolved what he described as three separate incidents reported Tuesday.
Thompson said one unaffiliated voter attempted to vote in the GOP race and was told they needed to affiliate. Upon those instructions, the voter refused to affiliate and left, he said.
Thompson said there was only one problem reported in Provo.
"The person was a Democrat and came in and wanted to affiliate as a Republican, which is not allowed after the July 17 deadline," he said. "They were explained that also, and they threw a fit and said, 'This is not right,' and stormed out."
Despite continued misunderstandings, Thompson said he had informed poll workers to allow voters to cast provisional ballots even if their affiliation was unclear and that Utah County would "go through it later."
Anna Rampton Fowler, who was already registered as a Republican, said she was initially confused to receive the mailer informing her that she could still affiliate with the Republican Party on Election Day.
Fowler said the mailer led her to worry that her affiliation had been mislabeled or somehow expired, which resulted in taking her ballot to the polls Tuesday.
While attempting to vote in Springville, Fowler said she asked for help finding where to take her ballot, and one of the people there told her that voting was on the fifth floor of the building and that she had to be a Republican to vote.
Knowing that unaffiliated voters could still register as a Republican on Election Day, Fowler said she might have been discouraged and turned away by those comments if she were less informed about the issue.
"I would be thinking, 'Oh, I'm unaffiliated. I can't register today, and I'm not registered already,'" she said.