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As next week's canvass nears, Salt Lake County election officials have amassed nearly 11,000 outstanding ballots, a surprisingly high number yet to be counted.

If authenticated - 75 percent of provisional ballots and nearly all absentee forms usually qualify - at least seven races could be plunged into play, including the re-election of House Speaker Greg Curtis, who prevailed by a mere 46 votes, according to unofficial Election Night returns.

"It's a lot," County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said of the ballot load, which she attributes to an earlier-than-usual registration deadline - moved up this year by 10 days.

So far, Swensen says, 4,400 provisionals have been verified. There also are 600 paper ballots - requested by voters leery of the new electronic machines - that have yet to be tabulated, explained Jason Yocom, chief deputy clerk.

Yocom says results from outstanding ballots typically follow the general-election trend, but notes poll workers reported a steady stream of questions about provisionals.

"With that many outstanding ballots, you never can tell," he said.

And tens of thousands of early-voting results carried a decidedly Democratic tinge in Salt Lake County. Later returns changed many outcomes to the more-familiar Republican hue.

The current uncertainty already has the attention of Curtis, whose camp had the state GOP hire attorneys to oversee the count and Tuesday's canvass.

Due to the large number, however, the County Council this week elected to convene the canvass board Monday to get a head start. As of late Wednesday, Yocom noted, the stack of provisionals had passed 7,700 along with more than 3,000 absentees.

When those numbers were reported during a council budget hearing this week, Republicans sat stoic and silent.

"They're shocked by the numbers," Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch said. "There is a real strong possibility that we can see four elections change."

Five House seats - two on the west side and three on the east - also are razor thin as are contests for county auditor and a Jordan School Board seat. Even the races for district attorney and the District 3 County Council seat technically could turn, although such a wild swing is unlikely.

A former county party chairman, Hatch suggests absentees tend to run Republican, while provisionals tend to go Democratic.

The GOP "hired an attorney," Hatch added. "That shows they are nervous."

To be counted, Yocom says, provisional tallies must come from registered voters who live in the precinct where they cast their ballots. Absentees are counted as long as they are postmarked a day before the election.

Verification is a "very tedious process," Swensen said.

And for the candidates: tenuous.