SALT LAKE CITY — Tuesday's special election for the 3rd District seat in Congress vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz may end up boosting voter turnout from what's typical for off-year municipal races.
"We expect some bump from the special election. We still don't know what it will be," the state's deputy election director, Justin Lee, said Monday. Utah hasn't dealt with a midterm congressional vacancy since 1929.
Typically, voter turnout for the local government posts and proposed bonding on an off-year ballot is about 20 percent, Lee said. By midday Monday, statewide turnout was already approaching 22 percent, he said.
Ballots in the 22 of 29 counties conducting the election by mail had to be postmarked by Monday, but voters who missed that deadline can still drop them off at designated locations, including polling places, open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Information on voting locations for Salt Lake County is available at got-vote.com and for the state at vote.utah.gov. Voters can also confirm whether their mail-in ballots have been received and counted at the state site.
"It's not too late. Just get them in," Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show" Monday. Swenson said she's surprised voter turnout hasn't been stronger.
"There's just a lot of important races out there," Swensen said.
Mayors are being elected in a number of municipalities around the state, including Provo, Sandy, Midvale and Draper, and there are also city council races.
Lee said there are about 440 races around the state that will be decided Tuesday.
In addition, six area school boards are seeking approval for more than $800 million in bonding, ranging from $49 million in the Morgan County School District to $283 million in the Canyons School District.
There's been plenty of attention paid to the 3rd District race, which started earlier this year when Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, made the surprising announcement he was stepping down June 30.
A long list of candidates filed to run for the remaining year of Chaffetz's term in a state that last faced filling a vacant seat in Congress after five-term Republican Elmer Leatherwood died in office in December 1929.
Republicans had a three-way primary election on Aug. 15, and Provo Mayor John Curtis was selected as the party's nominee. Kathie Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician, had started running before Chaffetz left office and did not have a primary.
A new third-party candidate, the United Utah Party's Jim Bennett, son of late Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, took the state to court to secure a spot on the ballot and polled high enough to qualify to participate in several debates.
Others on the crowded ballot are Libertarian Joe Buchman, Independent American Jason Christensen and unaffiliated candidate Sean Whalen. There are also two write-in candidates, Brendan Phillips and Russell Paul Roesler.
Curtis has held a strong lead in polls, and the 3rd District is considered one of the most Republican in the nation. The district includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
In the GOP primary in August, the race was called for Curtis by the Associated Press that night, but one of his opponents, former state lawmaker Chris Herrod, did not concede for several days because many votes were yet to be counted.
On Tuesday, "there may be a clear winner, but there may not be an actual winner until a couple of weeks," Lee said, when county officials certify the final canvass of votes on Nov. 21. "It's difficult to say for sure."
Swenson said last-minute voting on Election Day makes it difficult to get every ballot counted that day. State law now allows the release of additional vote counts after the election rather than waiting for the canvass.2 comments on this story
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said even though the congressional race may not be that close, it still has the potential to get voters interested in the municipal portion of their ballot, too.
Voters "pay more attention to the ballot" when there's a high-profile race, he said, especially one that has included repeated TV commercials for the candidates in both the primary and general elections.
Otherwise, Burbank said, when voters "get the general election ballot and look at two candidates on there you've never seen before, you might say, 'It's a city council election. What do I care?'"