Although early voter turnout in Tooele County has been sluggish this year compared to the last presidential election, there are reasons to believe participation could still surge as Election Day approaches, according to Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette.
For example, the clerk’s office has already mailed out 2,188 absentee ballots to county voters compared to only 915 mailed out to voters in 2008.
“I credit part of the increase to the county Republican Party that has been encouraging people to request absentee ballots so they can vote by mail,” said Gillette.
The Tooele County Republican Party made a concerted effort to sign people up to vote-by-mail as a way of increasing voter turnout, according to Chris Sloan, Tooele County Republican Party chairman. Republicans’ efforts included pushing vote-by-mail applications at caucus meetings, booths at pubic events, and through precinct chairs going door-to-door in their precinct, Sloan said.
Yesterday morning, 135 people, mostly seniors, voted early at the Tooele Senior Citizens Center, according to Gillette. That total is at least 100 more than voted early at the early voting day at the senior center last year.
While absentee ballots have shot up and the senior center early voting hit an all-time high, early voting in general has been sluggish this year.
As of 8:30 a.m. this morning, 3,123 Tooele County voters had gone to polling locations to cast an early ballot. In the last presidential election, 5,240 had voted by the end of the Thursday prior to the election, making this year’s early voting turnout currently down by 40 percent compared to the same period four years ago.
Gillette finds the low early voter turnout surprising, but said the increase in absentee ballots may include some previous early voters.
With early voting continuing through Friday at the county building and early voting polls being set up at the Grantsville fire station and Stansbury High School today and Friday, it may still be possible for early voting this year to meet or exceed the 2008 early voting turnout, according to Gillette.
The early vote turnout in Tooele County so far in 2012 puts the voter turnout at 18.7 percent a week before the election.
Tooele County ranks No. 16 among Utah’s 29 counties in percentage of early voting turnout for this election. Duchesne County, which votes entirely by mail, has a 56 percent voter turnout, followed by Kane County with 31 percent voting early.
A total of 809 out of 2,051 vote-by-mail ballots have been returned to the Tooele County clerk’s office, for a 39 percent return, and 809 absentee ballots have also come back in.
The trend is for the majority of absentee ballots to be marked and mailed just prior to Election Day, according to Gillette.
Absentee and vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked by the day before the election and will be counted if they are received at the clerk’s office by the date vote canvassing is made final.
In 2008, record interest in absentee ballots and early voting had Gillette and other county clerks around the state predicting a voter turnout as high as 80 percent, but by the end of Election Day the turnout in Tooele County was only 66 percent, the same as the 2004 presidential election.
The highest voter turn out for a presidential election in Tooele County was 90 percent in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater. The lowest voter turnout was in 2000 when the turnout was 63 percent in the George W. Bush versus Al Gore race.
Early voting serves as a time to train poll managers and help poll workers get ready for Election Day.
Gillette reports no problems with the computerized voting system and programming being used this year.
“I think turnout will be good,” said Gillette. “People are sounding very passionate this year, but I’m not going to make a prediction.”