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The countdown to Election Day: Will Utah see long lines at the polls?

Staggering numbers of mail-in ballots continue to flood back to county clerks

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Marla Easton picks up a ballot from poll worker Teri Bladen at the Weber Center in Ogden on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. To keep people spaced out during the COVID-19 pandemic, people voting in-person were asked to take their ballot outside or to their car and return it to a drop box.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the final stretch.

Utah ballots are continuing to surge back to clerks in daily waves. As of Friday afternoon — T minus four days before Election Day — more than 872,000 ballots had been returned and processed to be included in election night tallies.

But the big question is whether it will be enough to avoid long lines on Election Day?

“I hope so,” Utah Elections Director Justin Lee said on Friday. “I’m still concerned people are going to show up on Election Day thinking they’ll be able to vote in person and be disappointed because most counties will simply be printing the paper ballot ... We don’t want people to go in line and waste their time when they (could) have a ballot in hand.”

Amid the pandemic, polling places are limited in numbers and are meant to be reserved only for people who need assistance casting their votes, and most counties are only using paper voting and not electronic voting. Election officials have been urging Utahns to either mail or drop off their by-mail ballots, which have been mailed to over 1.85 million Utahns registered to vote, according to the state’s elections website.

With about 50,000 ballots being returned almost daily — and perhaps an even bigger surge expected this weekend — Lee said it’s possible Utah could surpass its 1.1 million ballots counted in the days before the 2016 presidential election.

“If we keep at this rate, we could get to that number before Election Day, or early on Election Day, which is great news for us,” Lee said. “We really hope that continues for the next few days.”

Record-breaking turnout is expected. As of Friday, the state’s voter turnout rate rested at about 52%. In 2016, final turnout was about 82% of active registered voters.

Due to the national discourse over voting by mail, fueled by President Donald Trump’s accusations, without evidence, that vote by mail is fraught with fraud, conservatives may be more inclined to want to vote in person.

But “regardless of party affiliation,” Lee said “we continue to encourage everyone” to use their mail-in ballot. “We’re really wanting everyone to avoid those polls unless they really need that help.”


Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch looks through a box of ballot envelopes while giving a tour of the Weber County Elections Office in Ogden on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

As of Friday morning, 325,660 ballots had been returned in Salt Lake County, 142,885 in Utah County, 109,165 in Davis County and 56,635 in Weber County, as well as thousands more in other counties throughout the state, according to state election officials’ tallies.

Utah law requires ballots to be postmarked by the end of the day Monday, before Election Day. Post office workers have recommended Utahns mail their ballots at least a week in advance of Election Day — so if they haven’t mailed it yet, voters can ensure their ballots get postmarked on time by walking into the post office. Voters can also drop their ballots off in secure drop boxes located throughout every county, until 8 p.m. on Election Day.