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Vote-by-mail is a winner in primary election

Workers verify ballots at the Salt Lake County Election Division in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. At front is Ashley Lee.
Workers verify ballots at the Salt Lake County Election Division in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. At front is Ashley Lee.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As primary election results were handed down Tuesday night, one clear winner in Salt Lake County was voter turnout thanks to a vote-by-mail campaign.

"This is just unprecedented," Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said Tuesday. "What it says is the vote-by-mail process absolutely worked in increasing voter turnout."

The county recorded a 32 percent voter turnout across all cities, which doubles numbers seen in previous primary elections and even beats the 26 percent showing in the November 2013 municipal election, Swensen said.

Only 472 ballots that came in just under the wire had yet to be counted when Swensen turned off the lights before 10 p.m. in the county clerk's election office, a surprisingly early hour for election night. Those votes, along with any mail-in ballots arriving in the next few days with the appropriate postmark, will be counted in the final election canvass.

"It's been smoother on our end; it's been smoother on (voters') end. We've just had a great response," Swensen said.

In addition to the highly publicized Salt Lake City mayoral race and City Council runoff, the mail-in campaign was used as voters narrowed the field in South Jordan, West Jordan, South Salt Lake, Midvale, Herriman, Holladay.

In West Valley City, which conducted a traditional primary election, incumbant Tom Huynh secured a decisive 65 percent of the vote over his two challengers. Larry Wiley, who won 24 percent of the vote, also advances. Voter turnout in that city was 13 percent.

Huynh, the first minority councilman in the city, was elected in 2011.

In Utah County, Stephanie Gricius recorded two victories Tuesday night: She led the runoff in the Eagle Mountain City Council primary election, even as the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission recommended Salt Lake City for a new prison site rather than her hometown.

Gricius, who made campaigning against the proposed Eagle Mountain prison site one of her platforms in the City Council race, claimed 20 percent of the votes in Tuesday's primary election to take the first of six spots advancing to the general election.

With all precincts reporting, Gricius was followed by Colby Curtis, another anti-prison activist, and Ben Reaves, who each secured 14 percent of the vote. Candidates Jared Gray and Mike Owens also advanced, with incumbant Richard Steinkopf holding onto the final spot with 10 percent of the vote.

In Provo, former Mayor George Stewart led the race for the City Council's second citywide seat with 48 percent of the vote. Carina Wytiaz, who won 22 percent of the vote, also advances.

Councilman Gary Garrett did not seek re-election in that race.

As primary results were tallied Tuesday night, Davis County Clerk/Auditor Curtis Koch was also keeping a pleased eye on Farmington, Kaysville and Syracuse — the three cities conducting a by-mail election. All three, he noted, increased voter turnout over last year.

"As we go out and talk to the cities, we talk about what drives elections, what drives people. One is going to be issues, but two is the method," Koch said. "While we have issues that may have helped drive some of those numbers, I think we also have substantial data showing that when you announce an election by giving every registered voter a ballot, it improves your turnout, period."

With all precincts reporting, Kaysville led voter turnout at 34 percent of registered casting ballots its primary runoff for its City Council race, where incumbant Randy Hilton took nearly 10 percent of the vote to cling to the final qualifying spot behind five other candidates. With just one vote between them, candidates Dave Adams and Larry Page led the pack, each winning 16 percent of votes.

Incumbents in Farmington, Layton, South Weber, Syracuse, West Bountiful and West Point will also advance to the general election.

While it was too early in the night to say whether turnout in vote-by-mail cities would top those conducting a traditional primary, Koch was confident the mail-in option was showing impressively positive results.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero