Utahns flock to vote in what may be biggest midterm election turnout

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    SALT LAKE CITY — Voters who have not registered can still do so until 8 p.m. at polling stations throughout Utah.

    But unless you’re dropping off mail-in ballots, be prepared to wait.

    The state’s elections director, Justin Lee, said Tuesday afternoon that Utah has already passed previous midterms in the number of ballots cast.

    As of a 4:45 p.m. update, about 1.4 million Utahns had voted, or 54.7 percent of registered voters.

    “No question, we’re breaking records,” Lee said.

    In 2010, 653,000 Utahns voted — 51.55 percent of registered voters. In 1990 and 1994, the turnout was about 58 percent, Lee said, but this year’s percentage may beat those numbers as many ballots are still in the mail, being counted or are currently being cast.

    Utahns voting in-person Tuesday have had varying experiences at polling locations.

    Areas of Utah County saw heavy voter participation and long lines.

    In response, elections officials relocated additional machines to locations in the north end of the county and provided some paper ballots to make sure everyone waiting has the opportunity to vote, according to Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson.

    He said the county’s average wait has been an hour to an hour and a half, in part due to the length of the ballot

    However, “Anyone in line by 8 p.m. will get to vote. No one will be turned away,” Thompson said.

    “It’s the first time for vote by mail in Utah County and we anticipated that a lot of people would still show up,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in regard to the wait time in Utah County.

    Voters in Eagle Mountain have seen wait times of up to two hours but were treated to cookies, water, donuts, coffee and hot chocolate at different times throughout the day.

    Larry Dew went to two voting centers in Lehi, only to find more than two-hour waiting times. As waits at Lehi’s City Hall grew to as much as three hours in the evening, pizza was dispatched to sate hungry voters.

    Summit County tweeted wait times of over 90 minutes in Park City, and encouraged voters to consider driving to Kamas or Coalville where wait times were under 10 minutes.

    “Any Summit County resident can vote at any of the 4 voting locations in Summit County. (Park City, Kimball Junction, Coalville and Kamas),” the county’s Twitter account clarified.

    Lines were short at the Trolley Square voting center this morning, but each machine was still occupied and the room had a bustling atmosphere. In the first two hours, more than 100 ballots had been cast.

    Shauna Bagley, the Trolley Square voting center lead, was impressed by the turnout and said she expects the evening hours to get very busy.

    Greg Walker puts on his "I Voted" sticker after voting at a polling station at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    Greg Walker puts on his “I Voted” sticker after voting at a polling station at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

    She believes this year’s election is drawing more voters than usual for a midterm election because of the propositions and having a former presidential candidate on the ballot.

    Grace Laughlin, who cast her first ballot Tuesday, comes from a family of dedicated voters.

    “I like that I’m finally able to participate in the choices that are being made for me and the people I care about,” she said after voting next to her parents.

    Her father, Shawn Laughlin, was excited to see her participate in her first election.

    “Normally we would just mail our ballots in, but we wanted to do it down here in person for her first time,” he said.

    Davis County Clerk Curtis Koch urged voters with mail-in ballots to skip the lines and use ballot drop-off boxes either inside the voting centers or in drive-through locations.

    “We’re encouraging people bring your vote-by-mail ballot, walk in, drop it,” Koch said. “Walk and drop, walk and drop. You’ll have no lines, you’ll still get your ‘I Voted’ sticker, and it’s just easy.”

    University of Utah senior William Lewis cast his ballot at the Marriott Library polling station Tuesday.

    “I think it’s more fun to vote in person,” Lewis said.

    The voting center at Columbus Community Center wasn’t as busy but still had received 35 ballots within the first two hours of being open.

    James Montgomery joins with other voters in casting their ballots at a polling station at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    James Montgomery joins with other voters in casting their ballots at a polling station at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

    Salt Lake County voters had already mailed in more than 250,000 ballots, and with options for same-day registration, voting machines and ballot drop-offs still available, officials expect 2018 will be one of the biggest voter turnouts of any midterm election.

    “I want change, and it’s time now,” said James Montgomery after casting his ballot at Trolley Square. “Change is for the best, and people want something different now.”

    As of Monday, 264,350 county ballots had been mailed in, according to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, which is more than 50 percent of the ballots mailed out.

    Koch emphasized that all eligible voters, whether registered or not, should go in and fill out their ballots.

    “We have fantastic poll workers who have been trained to help the most seasoned voter to the most novice voter to those who have never voted before,” Koch said. “They can walk in and our staff will take care of them 100 percent.”

    Koch said newly registering voters will need to bring a form of identification and proof of address. A full list of accepted forms of ID, as well as polling locations and other questions about Election Day, can be found at vote.utah.gov, or by calling the state elections office at 801-538-1041.

    Polls are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday, and Columbus poll worker Sharon Cameron said as long as voters are in line by that time, they’ll get their chance to vote.

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