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Utah Dems hold edge in early voting as wild election heads for finish line

Published November 7, 2016 11:34 am

Politics • Republicans still have the raw numbers, but many holding on to their mail-in ballots.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

More than half a million Utahns have already cast their ballots as of Sunday, either in person or by mail, and, at this stage, Democrats hold a turnout advantage.

Not just statewide either. In each of Utah's four congressional districts, all represented by Republicans, and in all of the state's 29 counties, the percentage of Democrats voting early tops that of Republicans.

And polling shows Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump and independent Evan McMullin among votes already cast.



That edge may not last, of course, in this GOP-dominated state.

The choices facing Utah's more liberal voters have been relatively straightforward, while big groups of Republicans have agonized over their presidential options.

As a result, this complicated and confounding election is racing toward an unpredictable end, even with the raw numbers already favoring Republicans.

Beyond questions of who will win are concerns about long lines on Election Day and the possibility the results won't be known until later in the week.

This isn't just the year of Trump vs. Clinton vs. McMullin. It's also the first big election in which a majority of Utahns are voting by mail, and that has revolutionized campaigning in the state.

Those ballots must be postmarked by Monday, or voters can go to a limited number of polling centers Tuesday to either cast a ballot in person or drop off their mail-in ones. Details can be found at vote.utah.gov.

These multiple options, and a lower than expected return rate on early ballots so far, have party leaders and election officials worried about packed lines Tuesday, potentially frustrating voters and depressing turnout. In addition, a mountain of unopened, late-arriving ballots could mean close races will remain undecided until updated results are released Thursday.

"Since it is so new, it is hard to predict what is going to happen," said Peter Corroon, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, completed Thursday, found 53 percent of likely voters already have voted, and that included 77 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans.

So it is no surprise the poll found Clinton ahead among early voters 38 percent to Trump's 32 percent, while McMullin, the independent, had 22 percent.

"For some reason Democrats, not only in Utah, but in other places, tend to vote early," said David Magleby, a political scientist at Brigham Young University. "My theory is Republicans don't know how to vote for president; they are conflicted. They are sitting on their mail-in ballots."

Trump, the Republican standard-bearer, isn't popular among Utah voters and has struggled throughout the year in this conservative state. And yet, six polls last week show him surging ahead of McMullin, the homegrown conservative alternative, and Clinton. That included the Tribune-Hinckley poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.

Overall, that survey found Trump at 34 percent, while Clinton and McMullin were tied at 27 percent.

Of those who had yet to vote, Trump was at 35 percent, McMullin at 33 percent and Clinton lagged at 14 percent.

That gives James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, confidence.

"I expect over the weekend and on Monday, you'll see an uptick," he said Friday of GOP votes. "There's a feeling Trump is going to win the election nationally."

Trump has cut into Clinton's lead in surveys in swing states such as Florida and New Hampshire, though most prognosticators say she still holds an Electoral College edge.

Corroon said Democrats have emphasized early voting because he worries people may misplace their ballots, fall ill or get discouraged in long lines. And Utah's minority party doesn't have votes to spare if it wants to pick up seats in the state Legislature or challenge U.S. Rep. Mia Love, their top congressional target, or take an outside chance at Utah's six electoral votes for president.

As of Sunday, the lieutenant governor's office reports that the ballots of nearly 40 percent of Utah Republicans (268,259), more than 45 percent of Democrats (72,356 votes) and almost 34 percent of unaffiliated voters (177,467 votes) have been processed.

But simply looking at the state's active registered voters numbers can be misleading. Republicans hold a massive advantage, in part, because they require their supporters to register to participate in primary elections. Democrats don't, so many of their supporters remain unaffiliated. And, in terms of raw votes, Utah has far more conservatives than liberals overall.

Each morning, the political parties and their candidates receive a report listing every Utahn who voted, their address and party affiliation. They layer on data they've been collecting for years about what issues are important to people, how likely they are to vote and how they lean if they are unaffiliated.

This allows candidates to get surgical in the way they nudge voters to either mail in those ballots or show up at polling places Tuesday. And if they have already voted, then candidates can stop the phone calls and mailers.

"Campaigns have to become more sophisticated," Evans said. "The party itself has to become more sophisticated in how we analyze the data and how we get it out to the candidates each morning. It has been very helpful."

The unknowns, though, are significant. Mail-in voting is expected to boost turnout, but Magleby, who is heading the Utah Colleges Exit Poll, believes as many as 5 percent of voters will sit out the presidential race entirely.

And confusion about exactly how to vote may roil tight races, leading those involved to urge voters to bring their ballots to post offices or drop-off boxes as soon as they can.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham —

Early voting

Democrats seem more eager to cast ballots early throughout the state. Here's a look at turnout as it relates to the number of active registered voters:

STATEWIDE

All voters: 37.9 percent (528,315 votes)

Republicans: 39.9 percent (268,259 votes)

Democrats: 45.4 percent (72,356 votes)

Unaffiliated: 33.7 percent (177,467 votes)

4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (Rep. Mia Love vs. Doug Owens)

All voters: 38.1 percent (130,625 votes)

Republicans: 40.4 percent (59,126 votes)

Democrats: 44.6 percent (20,382 votes)

Unaffiliated: 34.3 percent (48,610 votes)

SALT LAKE COUNTY

All voters: 34.5 percent (175,738 votes)

Republicans: 35.9 percent (67,548 votes)

Democrats: 40.3 percent (34,602 votes)

Unaffiliated: 31.6 percent (70,469 votes)

Data analysis by Tony Semerad

Source: Utah lieutenant governor's office

 

 

 

 

 

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