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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Early Voter Turnout Is Higher Than Ever Before In Utah: Here’s Why It Matters To Voters

A photo of Brandie Hoffman in front of a ballot drop off box.
Sonja Hutson
29-year-old Brandie Hoffman said she voted early so she wouldn’t have to worry about making time for it on Election Day.

More than 850,000 ballots have been processed in Utah so far — equaling 50% turnout four days before the election.

Ballots are processed — like checking the signature on mail-in ballots — as they come in, but county clerks won’t start tabulating the results until Election Day.

State Elections Director Justin Lee said he’s glad so many people are voting early since it decreases the likelihood of Utahns crowding at polling places on Tuesday.

“We’re doing great and anecdotally, [turnout is] much higher than we've seen in the past this early,” Lee said. “There's obviously been a lot of conversation with people who are excited to vote and a lot of messages out there for people to vote and vote early.”

29-year-old Brandie Hoffman dropped off her ballot at West Valley City Hall Thursday morning so she wouldn’t have to worry about finding the time on Nov. 3.

“We have to make a change,” she said. “We have to do this. So it's really important to vote early ... It gets it done, it gets it taken care of.”

Early Voting on Navajo Nation

Since 2018, all counties have been required to conduct some in-person early voting. But San Juan County has been required to provide multiple locations since that year due to a court settlement.

The Navajo Nation and American Civil Liberties Union of Utah sued the county in 2014 when it tried to eliminate in-person voting, and the county settled the case in 2018. Under the agreement, the county must provide three physical polling places on the reservation in the month leading up to and on Election Day. It must also hire a certified Navajo language interpreter to staff each location.

A Navajo woman waits to fill out her ballot at a polling place.
Kate Groetzinger
A Navajo woman waits to fill out her ballot at a polling place in Red Mesa, Utah on October 21, 2020.

“All voters have a right to equally understand the contents of the ballot,” said Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission director Leonard Gorman. “In our case, a lot of our people have a preference to understand the contents of the ballot in the Navajo language.”

Along with the interpretation service, the polling places provide a convenient place to drop off mail-in ballots. Most residents of the Navajo Nation don’t receive mail at home and must drive long distances to reach a post office. Their mail also gets routed through larger cities and towns, which can cause delays. That makes the settlement agreement all the more important, according to Gorman.

“We always have problems with the postal system,” Gorman said. “It takes a 150-mile route to have a piece of mail delivered between two post offices [on the reservation] that are three miles apart.”

The county voluntarily added extra early voting locations for this election, said county clerk John David Nielson, because interpretation can take a long time.

“The ballot, it’s 14 inches long, two sides,” he added. “And so the amount of time to explain the ballot and then to vote the ballot would cause long lines on Election Day.”

Over half the 7,771 active registered voters in San Juan County have cast their ballots so far, including those who voted by-mail.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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