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More early voters in Utah casting ballots by mail

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After the first week in 2010 the early vote turnout was 1,949. For this election, after the first week, the turnout was 2, 012. – Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen

SALT LAKE CITY — Election Day for Utah’s primary is still a week away, but election officials say the event is no longer a one-day activity.

Voters have been casting their ballots throughout the state for several days at city and county offices and can continue to vote through the end of the week. Absentee ballots, which are becoming more popular, need to be mailed by Friday.

Salt Lake County voters taking advantage of early voting say they like the option because they can vote on a day when it's convenient, instead of having just one option of Election Day.

Melanie Appel said she is going to be out of town on June 26, but didn’t want to miss her first time voting in Utah.

“I really wanted to vote on the Republican ballot for Ron Paul,” Appel said. She recently moved from Georgia and wanted to support Paul despite Mitt Romney’s apparent win.

Gene and Linda Carroll said they always vote early to avoid the rush. When candidates call them prior to the election, they can say they already voted and “can’t change the ballot.”

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said more people are realizing they can vote early.

“It is a hard mindset to overcome,” Swensen said. “You get a choice. Election Day isn’t just one day anymore.”

While early voters going to city and county buildings is decreasing, voter turnout by mail is higher, she said.

“After the first week in 2010, the early vote turnout was 1,949. For this election, after the first week, the turnout was 2,012. It’s actually only 63 more people,” Swensen said. “Part of it could be due to the fact that we have a lot more people on permanent vote-by-mail than we did at that point in time."

In the 2010 primary, just less than 20 percent of registered voters in Salt Lake County voted. However, 58 percent of the 36,785 vote-by-mail ballots that were mailed out were returned. This year more than 60,000 vote-by-mail ballots were sent out.

In-person early voting is also down significantly in Davis and Utah counties.

“So far we have 1,833 voters who have cast early ballots, as far as just the early voting. As of the first week in 2010 we had 3,527 voters had voted early,” Davis County election director Pat Beckstead said. “Many of these people that were voting early maybe are just by mail now.”

Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson said he thinks the same amount of people are voting as they have in the past, but they're changing how they do it.

“Turnout and everything is probably about the same as normal,” Thompson said. “It’s just shifted to some different methods with a lot of people asking for the absentee.”

Thompson said 3,300 absentee ballots were requested for the 2010 primary election as opposed to this year where they have received 10,800.

“It’s a huge increase, but part of that is we’ve had a political party and a campaign that has been encouraging people to vote by mail,” Thompson said. “And I think it’s cannibalized our early voting a little bit and increased the others.”

And while some people have expressed concerns over not receiving their absentee ballots, Thompson said everything is in order.

“Everything’s been sent,” Thompson said. “With it being tripled, it’s taken a little bit longer than we normally would take. But they are all out in the mail and we’ve actually started receiving some returns from those coming back."

Twitter: @FinleyJY