Utah Turnout Will Be Disappointing Again in 2014

Are you going to vote this year?

Have you already voted, either by mail or at early voting polling places?

Well, good for you if you have.

But the 2014 elections in Utah won’t be setting any voter turnout records.

Still, Tuesday will be a stepping-stone towards 2016 – a presidential election year that could set a modern voter turnout record, some political observers tell UtahPolicy.

So far, says Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, early turnout has been disappointing – both with the mail-in ballots and early voting at 20 polling places across the valley.

“I think we’re looking at 40-45 percent turnout countywide,” said Swensen, who has been the clerk for more than 20 years.

UtahPolicy pollster Dan Jones sees much the same. “Thirty-five-to-40 percent across the state,” said Jones.

Swensen said she is somewhat dismayed.

“I don’t know what more we can do in trying to get people to vote – we’ve made it so easy.”

In 2010 (a year that did have a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races) – the last presidential mid-term election — 70 percent of the mail-in ballots that were sent out came back in, said Swensen.

This year, it looks like maybe only 46 percent mail-in ballots will come back, she guessed.

In 2010, 25,000 people voted early in polling places around the county. This year it was 20,000.

“I’m worried that fewer people will be voting Tuesday” – the normal Election Day, Swensen told UtahPolicy. “I really don’t know what to think” is happening.

If you have a mail-in ballot, you can fill it out and drop it off Tuesday at any polling place in the county by 8 p.m. – it DOES NOT have to be your polling place.

But mail-in ballots had to be postmark by midnight Monday.

Depending on voter turnout Tuesday, perhaps 1/3rd of all ballots cast in Salt Lake County will come either from early voting or by mail in voting, Swensen guessed.

In a race like Utah’s 4th Congressional District – which is a close match-up between Republican Mia Love and Democrat Doug Owens – if a third of votes are cast before the final weekend, that changes how one runs their campaign.

TV ads need to come earlier.

And last-minute TV ads – like the anti-Obama ad Love started running the end of last week – will have less of an impact.

Jones said the hot 4th District race may bring out not only more 4th District voters, but more voters statewide – as all Utahns see Owens or Love TV and radio ads.

But, said Swensen, she is not seeing a greater voter turnout in the county’s 4th District areas than in the county’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts – which are runaways by the GOP incumbents.

Love has raised $4.7 million and spent $4.3 million as of two weeks ago.

Owens raised $658,000 and spent $567,000 as of two weeks ago, FEC reports show.

Nearly $5 million spent in the 4th District and still less than half of the registered voters bothering to cast ballots.

Over the last several decades Utah voters ranked toward the bottom nationwide in election participation, and it doesn’t look like the 2014 midterms will be changing that much.

“All I can say is I’m anticipating a big turnout in 2016,” said Jones, who has polled in Utah for more than 40 years.

“I see more early voting then as the gubernatorial and presidential races draw some bigger numbers.”