SALT LAKE CITY — Facing lower-than-expected turnout for early and by-mail voting with Election Day just a week away, county clerks are urging Utahns to cast their ballots as soon as possible.
"Don't delay — vote today!" Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen's office urged in a news release Tuesday.
Less than 21 percent — about 93,000 — of mail-in ballots in Salt Lake County had been returned as of Tuesday, Swensen said, though she's hoping for at least 50 percent turnout in this year's general election.
"We have a lot of ballots that haven't been returned yet," she said, noting her concern that voters expecting to cast their ballots in person next Tuesday will clog up the county's limited number of vote centers.
"The vote centers are for people who really need them," Swensen said, such as those who need assistance when casting their ballots.
Waiting to vote in person could lead to long lines at voting centers, she said, and it also could hinder the counting of votes after polls close.
"Voting sooner rather than later allows us to get our work done so there are as many results as possible in election night totals," Swensen said.
Last year, thousands of people cast their ballots in person for the by-mail election, causing voters in some areas to wait in line for more than two hours.
Utah County also is "lagging" slightly behind projections for ballots received, Clerk Bryan Thompson said.
Less than 40,000 Utah County ballots had been returned as of Tuesday, representing an 18 percent return rate. Thompson said his office is projecting a 30 percent to 35 percent overall turnout for the election.
This year's most high-profile contest is the 3rd Congressional District race to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz through 2018.
Most 3rd District voters reside in Salt Lake and Utah counties, but the district also includes voters in Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
Thompson and Swensen both said they hope the race will drive up turnout.
Several cities in Salt Lake County have mayoral races this year, Swensen said, so she's expecting those races to boost turnout. As of Tuesday, Murray was leading the pack in cities with the highest voter turnout, with 25 percent of its ballots returned.
Unfortunately, Swensen said, only a small amount of people had taken advantage of the county's in-person early voting, which began at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Oct. 9. As of Tuesday, less than 300 people had voted early, the clerk said.
To those "procrastinating" or "waiting" because they think Election Day is still awhile off, Swensen said voters need to realize it's only days away.
Thompson said Utah County isn't holding early in-person voting, but if voters mail their ballots this week, "that could help us tally most of the results on election night."
However, with vote centers planned in every city, Thompson said he isn't expecting long lines in Utah County.
"We have enough people gearing up to handle a larger turnout than what we're projecting," he said. "If one area builds up with lines, then we'll have additional resources we can haul in."
In Davis County, chief deputy clerk Brian McKenzie said he, too, is confident polling places won't be overwhelmed on Election Day. As of Tuesday, 25 percent of Davis County ballots had been returned, which was "on target" with the county's projections, McKenzie said.
"Of course, we still encourage to get ballots in earlier rather than later," he added. "We don't want anyone to wait until the last minute and miss that postmark deadline."
Under state law, by-mail ballots must be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day. To ensure there's plenty of time to spare, Swensen and Thompson urged voters to mail their ballots Friday or Saturday at the latest.6 comments on this story
If voters want to cast their by-mail votes on Election Day, Thompson and Swensen said they don't need to wait in line. Instead, they can drop off their ballots at drop box locations or hand their filled-out ballots to poll workers.
Vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. To locate a vote center near you, visit vote.utah.gov.
The deadline for those who have never been registered to vote was Tuesday, but those who have been previously registered but have changed their address can call their county clerk until Monday to update their address and vote in person.