More voters in Tooele County turned out to vote in Tuesday’s presidential election than in the 2008 presidential election, and more of them voted for Republican candidates.
Voter turnout Tuesday night reached 65 percent, compared to 63 percent recorded at the close of polls in 2008.
The all-time high voter turnout for a presidential election in Tooele County was 90 percent in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater.
The tight presidential race drove voter turnout, according to Marilyn Gillette, Tooele County clerk.
“We had a lot of people that voted just for president and nothing else,” said Gillette. “I heard voters talking about a feeling that the country was at a turning point and the presidential election was seen as pivotal, regardless of who they favored.”
While overall voter turnout was up, early voting declined.
In the 2008 presidential contest, 8,310 Tooele County voters cast a ballot early, while in 2012 the number of early voters dipped to 5,326 — a 36 percent decline.
Some of those 2008 early voters may have ordered an absentee ballot this year so they could vote by mail.
In 2008, the Tooele County Clerk’s office mailed out 915 absentees ballots. This year, the clerk’s office mailed out 2,188 absentee ballots, and as of Wednesday morning 1,675 had been returned.
“We were mailing out as many as 10 absentee ballots a day,” Gillette said “I’ve never seen an election with that kind of volume of absentee requests.”
Gillette credits part of the surge in absentee ballots to the Republican Party’s door-to-door campaign to sign up people to vote by mail.
Gillette also thinks people like the idea of voting at home.
“You don’t have to leave your house to vote,” said Gillette. “You can also can take as long as you want to read the ballot without feeling pressure from people standing in line.”
Romney pulled down more votes in Tooele County in 2012 than McCain did in 2008. In 2012, 74 percent of the county voted for Romney compared to the 63 percent that voted for McCain in 2008.
Likewise, Barack Obama lost ground in the county, managing 33 percent of the vote in 2008 but only 23 percent in 2012.
Romney’s commanding lead in Utah was down to simple popularity, according to John O’Donnell, Tooele County Democratic Party chairman.
“There is no doubt about it, Romney is viewed in Utah as a homegrown boy,” said O’Donnell. “And everybody wants their homegrown boy in the White House.”
Romney’s appeal may have caused Democrats to cross over and vote for him as well as Democrat-leaning independents, O’Donnell said.
It’s unclear if the Tooele County Republican party’s door-to-door campaign to get out the vote, dubbed “project Demo-lition,” succeed in bringing out more Republican voters, as Chris Sloan, Tooele County Republican Party chairman hoped, or if Obama supporters, knowing that defeat in bright red Utah was inescapable, decided to stay home. “In project Demo-lition, we targeted voters registered as Republican that either had not voted recently or that voted only occasionally,” Sloan said. “I’m sure our efforts were part of the increase in Republican voter turnout.”
In 2012, a total of 3,930 Tooele County voters went no further than the first screen on the ballot and selected a straight-party ticket vote for Republicans. That’s 482 more straight-party Republican votes cast in 2012 in the county than in 2008, for a 14 percent increase.
On the Democrat side, 1,768 people voted a straight-party ticket, a 10 percent decrease from 2008.
This year also was marked by an unusually large number — four — of registered write-in candidates.
In order for votes for a write-in candidate to be counted, the write-in candidate must file with the county clerk’s office no less than 30 days before a general election.
The highest-profile write-in candidate, Colleen Johnson, who was fighting to retain her seat on the Tooele County Commission, received only 435 votes. Keith Davis filed as a write-in candidate for the Tooele County School Board in District 1 and received only 113 votes.
Write-in candidates are at a disadvantage because their name does not appear on the ballot. Gillette said she does not recall a write-in candidate wining a major elected position in Tooele County.
However, in the election for Erda Township Planning Commission, two write-in candidates did win seats.
At the close of the filing period for the general election, nobody filed for either of two elected seats on the Erda planning commission. After the filing date passed, but 30 days before the election, Steve Griffith filed as a write-in candidate for one of the seats and Ryan Foster filed as a write-in candidate for the other seat.
Both candidates only needed to get one vote to win, as they were running unopposed, according to Gillette.
Griffith walked away from the election with 12 votes and Foster collected nine votes out of a total of 836 voters from Erda that went to the polls on Tuesday.
Gillette still has over 1,000 provisional ballots cast by voters that either did not bring proper identification with them to the polls or for some reason their name did not appear on the voting rolls when they went to vote. She is also collecting absentee and vote-by-mail ballots.
Any ballots postmarked by the day before the election and received by the time county commissioners conduct the final canvass of votes will be counted, according to Gillette
There is one race that may have to wait for the final canvass, which is usually conducted two weeks after the election, before the winner is determined. In the North Tooele Fire District, Fred Burton holds a 10-vote lead over Michael Frieden, 1,747 to 1,737.
“It’s hard to look at a one-time increase in voter turnout and call it a trend,” said Sloan. “But I think the possibility is there that we can go forward from here and have a larger turnout four years from now.”