Voter turnout is up in primary election
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Jun 12, 2014 | 1443 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll holds a copy of a sample June 24 primary ballot. The upcoming primary will be the county’s first vote-by-mail election. Photo by Rudy Herndon
Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll holds a copy of a sample June 24 primary ballot. The upcoming primary will be the county’s first vote-by-mail election. Photo by Rudy Herndon
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When Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll made the decision to abandon traditional polling places in favor of a vote-by-mail system, she hoped that the move would boost voter turnout.

So far, it has, she says.

As of June 11, 431 voters who live in two precincts had cast their ballots in the county’s first vote-by-mail primary election. That’s almost four times the total per-capita turnout during the last primary election in 2012, when 10 percent of the county’s electorate participated, according to Carroll. 

“It’s gone great,” she said.

With an estimated 20 to 30 mail-in ballots arriving each day, Carroll expected that turnout would easily top 40 percent by June 11.

In the long run, she’s hopeful that total turnout will crack the 60 percent mark by the time that all of the votes are tallied on June 24. That’s the final day of the primary election for the District 3 seat on the Grand County Council, the lone race on the ballot. Voters in that district will narrow the field from three to two candidates. Those candidates are: Jaylyn Hawks, Russell Pogue and Manuel Torres. The top two vote-getters in the primary contest will face off for the District 3 seat in the general election on Nov. 4.

The turnout to date might seem all the more impressive considering that the 2012 primary was a countywide election, while the 2014 primary is limited to two precincts that are currently home to 1,277 registered voters.

“Not every voter will get a ballot — just those who live in Precincts 5 and 11,” Carroll said.

Precinct 5 includes the Walker subdivision, which is bounded to the west by 400 East; Precinct 11 runs along the west side of Spanish Valley Drive from Mill Creek Drive to the Grand and San Juan County lines.

By now, registered voters who live in the two precincts should have received their mail-in ballots. Those who haven’t should call the clerk’s office at: 435-259-1321 to make sure that it has their current mailing addresses on file.

Any voters who don’t receive mail-in ballots can also drop by the county clerk’s office to cast provisional ballots up until 8 p.m. on June 24. New residents, first-time voters or others who plan to vote in this year’s primary can register in person at the clerk’s office through June 16, or online at: https://secure.utah.gov/voterreg/index.html by June 17.

Grand County Democratic Party chairman Bob Greenberg has heard from a number of people who are concerned about the shift to an exclusively vote-by-mail system, although he himself supports the change.

“It appears that this will have a positive effect on voter turnout, and I believe that increased voter turnout will favor liberal candidates,” Greenberg said June 10.

However, he said he can understand why others might be upset by the move.

“It’s a big change,” Greenberg said. “People are used to going down to their polling place on election day, and there will be some people who will be shocked and disappointed that they can’t do that anymore.”

For that reason, Greenberg thinks that the clerk’s office should ramp up its voter outreach efforts to residents — particularly to those who don’t read local news reports.

He suggested that it could send out mass notifications by zip code, instead of mailing individual notices to registered voters.

“It’s a relatively inexpensive mass-mailing that would presumably (reach) more people,” Greenberg said.

The clerk’s office could also come up with a more eye-catching design for the notices, he said, and it could print posters that local merchants would be happy to put up inside their businesses.

Carroll said her office has tried to get the word out about the switch to the vote-by-mail process, noting that it is publishing sample ballots in The Times-Independent, as well as notices in The Advertiser.

“Based on the calls we get, I think that people are aware of it,” she said. “I just don’t know what else we could do at this point.”

Aside from free media coverage, Carroll said there’s a limit to the amount that her office can spend on voter outreach efforts.

“I’ve just about exhausted my budget for the primary,” she said. “Maybe we will hit it harder for November.”

At the very least, the county’s website at www.grandcountyutah.net will be updated with voter information and precinct maps well before the general election, she said.

“We’re redoing the county website right now,” she said. “We’re working … to have it way more user-friendly.” 

In terms of other issues, Greenberg wants to ensure that ballots will be postmarked with the dates when they were mailed off to the clerk’s office. The postmarks will help guarantee that every vote is counted, he said.

“Let’s imagine that it’s a week after the election and 30 ballots turn up,” he said. “It could shape an election.”

The fact that the clerk’s office will be tallying those ballots is a cause for concern among some people who contacted Greenberg, since Carroll is running for re-election in November.

“I don’t think there’s smoke; I don’t think there’s fire,” he said. “I do think there is some tinder lying around that is flammable.”

Greenberg has had a chance to discuss those concerns with Carroll, and he said that she has been receptive to them.

Carroll, in turn, said the ballot-tallying process won’t be any different than it has been during past counts of absentee ballots.

“We’re doing it just like we have with absentee ballots forever,” she said. “It’s business as usual.”

Carroll said she can empathize with those who might have reservations about the process, but she said there is ultimately no way around it.

“It sometimes feels uncomfortable to me that I haven’t had to share the ballot with anyone until now, but it’s my job. I mean, that’s what the citizens elected me to do,” she said. “I can understand how people would feel, but it’s a job that I have to do. It happens with every other county clerk and elections official in the country.”

Anyone who would like to sign up as a poll watcher is welcome to contact the county clerk’s office, she said.

The Grand County Democratic Party’s central committee might just take her up on that offer. According to Greenberg, it will likely discuss this weekend whether it wants to appoint any observers.

Once every vote has been tallied — most likely on the evening of June 24 — official election results will be posted at: http://electionresults.utah.gov/.

“That’s the fastest place to get them,” Carroll said. “It’s instantaneous, just as soon as we upload them.”

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