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In Salt Lake County, voter turnout was better than expected — approaching 50 percent — but in Weber and Utah counties it sagged to 33 percent.

Statewide, about 40 percent of "active voters" cast a ballot in this year's midterm election, Justin Lee, Utah deputy director of elections, said Wednesday.

Voter participation in Davis County remained unclear, Lee said, because some 15,000 ballots remained outstanding.

Nationally, Utah is near the bottom in voter participation.

Rural counties who opted for mail-in balloting saw higher turnouts, Lee said. Wayne County, for example, racked up a 73 percent turnout. About 68 percent of active voters in Grand County mailed ballots. And, in Garfield County, some 54 percent of voters participated in the election via mail.

Longtime Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said the estimated 45 percent to 48 percent showing in Utah's most populous county was better than she expected. Some provisional and mail-in ballots remained uncounted Wednesday.

"It wasn't what I had hoped for," she said of the turnout, "but it was better than what I thought it would be."

This year, the county also offered same-day registration, which helped boost participation.

County voters also had the option of voting by mail, Swensen said. But of 440,524 registered voters, only about 10,000 voted by mail.

But she noted that in the 2013 municipal elections, when Cottonwood Heights and West Jordan went with mail-only ballots, turnout doubled that of four years earlier in those suburban cities.

Swensen said increased mail voting could be the future, although she believes polling places should be available as well.

"If the County Council wanted it, we would do it that way," she said. "I think it's going to be a process where voters get comfortable with it. We don't want to force it on them."

One reason Salt Lake County may have enjoyed a bit higher turnout is that, unlike much of Utah, it has more competitive races.

Matthew Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, noted that in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Utah was a high participation state. But as the Republican Party began to dominate Beehive State politics, that participation has plunged.

"Some people," Burbank said, "look at the election and say, 'I know who is going to win, so I don't really need to vote.' "

In an effort to draw more voters, election officials have come up with offerings such as same-day registration, early voting and voting by mail.

"Mail-in balloting is a good way to get voting up," he said. " ... particularly in rural areas where polling places can be distant."

States with mail-in balloting are seeing higher turnout, Burbank said. Nonetheless, it may not be the sole answer.

"My suspicion is that it could be a novelty effect," he said. "I'm not sure it's something that forever going forward will change voter turnout."