SALT LAKE CITY — To a vast majority of Utahns, voting by mail is a tried-and-true method of voting, and they trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots on time for the upcoming election.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 75% of likely Utah voters have voted by mail in previous elections, compared to 24% who said they have not. Of those who previously voted by mail, 75% said they believe their vote was counted properly, while only 4% said no, and 21% said they weren’t sure.

Nationally, voting by mail has become a polarized political issue after President Donald Trump in a series of recent tweets called by-mail voting a “catastrophic disaster” and accused Democrats of knowing it’s “an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.”

Trump’s angst with the Postal Service has also led to concerns that sweeping budget cuts could impact the 2020 election — although new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has suspended certain changes at the U.S. Postal Service until after the election in order to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

Despite the national fervor over vote-by-mail ballots and the Postal Service, most likely Utah voters — though not as many as those who have voted by mail — trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots on time this year. About 64% of likely Utah voters said they trust the Postal Service to submit their ballots on time during the 2020 general election, while 16% said they don’t. About 21% said they aren’t sure, according to the poll.

The poll was conducted by pollster Scott Rasmussen for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics Sept. 7-12 of 1,000 likely Utah voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

To Rasmussen, the poll shows voting by mail hasn’t become so much of a political issue as it has in other states.

“Utahns are more comfortable with vote by mail than other parts of the country,” Rasmussen said. “It’s because they have experience with it. ... This is a normal process that people in Utah know how to deal with.”

That puts Utah in a different position than other states where voting by mail is a newer concept.

“One of the things that’s going to happen around the country is there are a lot of states that have never done vote by mail before, and many of them are very important states (in the presidential election), and they are not going to have the same procedures in place that you do in Utah, and so it has the potential to be a much more disruptive process,” he said.

However, Rasmussen noted there does appear to be a “clear partisan gap” in which Utahns do or don’t trust the Postal Service to deliver their ballots on time. The poll showed 8 out of 10 Democrats said they trust the Postal Service, but only 56% of the Republicans polled said they do.

“I think part of that is Republicans generally are distrustful of the competence of government agencies,” Rasmussen said. “So there’s some concern there, and so overall there is some discomfort this year.”

In what’s already been an ugly and highly polarized election year between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Rasmussen said no matter who leads on election night, there will most likely be distrust from the losing party. And if, as vote-by-mail ballot results trickle in from states that are slower to count, one candidate surpasses the other in a key state after Election Day, “it will not lead to great trust no matter who wins.”

“If the Democrats don’t get enough votes to defeat Trump, they will think their votes were suppressed,” Rasmussen said. “And if on the last day Biden surpasses Trump, Republicans are going to think there are shenanigans.”

So while Utahns are generally trusting of voting by mail, they may well watch a different nationwide narrative unfold on Election Day, and perhaps days or weeks afterward, depending on how close results are, the pollster said.

To Utah’s election officials, the poll results aren’t surprising, and they agree that’s because voting by mail is not a new concept to Utahns. The state boasts a long vote-by-mail track record and long-standing working relationships with local postmasters, so Utah’s state and local election officials are confident there will be no issues or mailing delays for the 2020 general election.

“They’re great numbers,” Utah Elections Director Justin Lee said of the poll results.

Lee pointed out that since 2018, about 90% of all Utah voters have voted with a by-mail ballot, whether that means they dropped it off in-person at a polling location, dropped it in a by-mail drop box, or postmarked it. Lee wonders if Utahns who responded to the poll considered all those methods of voting by mail and, if they had, the 75% of Utahns who said they have voted by mail would be higher.

Still, Lee said that number could be lower than the 90% that election officials have been tracking over the last two years, since some voters tend to only participate in presidential elections. For the last presidential election in 2016, only 21 of Utah’s 29 counties offered voting by mail.

Even though the percentage of Utahns who trust the Postal Service is nearly 10 percentage points lower than those who have voted by mail before, Lee said he is “glad the numbers are that high” considering the national debate around USPS.

“There’s just been so much discussion this year with the Postal Service, it doesn’t surprise me that people have concerns there,” he said. “The good thing here in Utah is we have spoken with local post office officials, and they’re very confident they can provide the service needs to make sure all ballots are delivered and returned on time.”

Lee said he would have like to see more Utahns say they believed their vote was counted properly, particularly from the 21% of those polled who said they aren’t sure. Voters can track their ballot status online at vote.utah.gov, and call their local clerks if they have any questions.

“We’ll be doing a lot of outreach on that as we get closer to the election,” he said.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who oversees elections in Utah’s most populous county, said she is “kind of sad” to see only 75% of Utahns say they have voted by mail. Even though that’s a clear majority, Swensen said she’d like to see a figure closer to 100%.

A customer mails a letter at the drive-thru drop box at the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“As far as not having confidence in the mail system with all the stories that have been out there, I understand their apprehension about that,” Swensen said. “But I want everyone to have confidence in it. I know it’s an excellent system. I know the care we take in handling the ballots, and I want them to know what we do take pride in taking care of their ballots.”

Swensen noted she has received assurances from Salt Lake postal officials that they are fully confident in handling all election mail, which is still only a fraction of the pieces of mail the post office handles on a daily basis.

“We do not anticipate seeing any delays with processing and delivering ballots,” Melissa Stark, consumer and industry contact manager for the Postal Services’ Salt Lake District, wrote in an email to Swensen (which Swensen shared with the Deseret News). “Nationally, we deliver 460 million pieces of mail a day and USPS has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time. We have both the staffing and processing capacity to handle the upcoming election, fall and holiday mailing season.”

Earlier this week, the Postal Service made national headlines again after sending out mailers to all households telling voters, “If you plan to vote by mail, plan ahead.” On the back of the mailer was a checklist of ways to prepare. One bullet point on that checklist told voters to “request your mail-in ballot (often called ‘absentee ballot’) at least 15 days before Election Day.”

That annoyed Utah election officials because it isn’t accurate for Utah voters, who do not need to request a mail-in ballot because they will be automatically mailed to all active registered voters starting 21 days before Election Day, Oct. 13.

The postcard also included a bullet point noting that rules and dates vary by state, encouraging voters to contact local election officials to confirm the information.

“I think the intent of the postcard was good,” Lee said. “It was just that one point. If they would have checked in with election officials, we could have given them better verbiage that ... wouldn’t be confusing to voters.”

Nonetheless, Lee said the poll results show that Utah is in a strong position to have confidence in the state’s role in the 2020 general election.

“The most difficult thing this year is the national conversation is sometimes hard to distinguish from the local conversation of what’s really happening here,” Lee said.