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Why Salt Lake County Is Still Counting Ballots

Merrimon via iStock

Voters in Salt Lake County experienced long lines on election night and the county is still counting ballots. It will take nearly two weeks to report final results.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says that's because mail-in ballots take a long time to process.

“For each one of those you have to verify a signature—compare it to the signature on the voter’s record,” she says. “And so it’s a very laborious process.”

Swensen says that process is hampered by invalid write-ins or ballots filled out incorrectly.  Her staff members work in pairs to verify ballots and she estimates one team can only get through about 200 mail-in ballots per day.

Swensen says it’s normal for results to trickle in slowly for vote-by-mail elections.  

The vast majority of mail-in ballots arrived on Election Day—more than 100,000 of them in Salt Lake County alone. Lt. Governor Spencer Cox attributed that phenomenon to voters’ indecisiveness about the presidential race.

“They were undecided,” Cox says. “They wanted to wait until the last minute, and that led to a large amount of ballots being received by the elections office the day of the election and even days after.”

Other voters—nearly 20,000 in Salt Lake County—waited until Election Day to register to vote or register at a new address. Those people had to fill out what’s called a provisional ballot—and elections officials say that’s what caused such long lines at polling centers on election night.

Cox says he’s working with county clerks around the state to decide how to proceed in future elections and “to get feedback. What worked, what didn’t work, what do we need to do different, and how can we fix this next time.”

The state has been releasing results updates twice a week since election night. There will be one last update Friday afternoon before the final canvass results are released on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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