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Most Utah voters liked the new touch-screen voting machines and tens of thousands took advantage of the state's first early voting options.

But for many, these election advances may not be available during next year's municipal contests.

It's a matter of money and practicality.

The state switched to a new - and more expensive - voting system, but cities don't have to. Utahns are likely to vote in a variety of cheaper ways come November. City leaders are also trying to loosen laws, such as the new early voting provision, to save cash.

"I think we all want to have the best election we can for the least cost," said Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert during a meeting Tuesday to discuss options with city recorders and county clerks.

Smaller towns are expected to revert to hand-counting paper ballots, while larger ones are in more of a bind. They could use the touch-screen machines or they could go with cheaper optical-scan ballots.

Most of Utah's 242 cities will either contract with counties, which maintain the machines, or with Diebold, the Texas-based company that sold the touch-screen computers to Utah.

The Utah Association of Counties estimated a city the size of Provo would spend $97,000 per election to use the touch-screen voting machines. The 2005 primary and general election in Provo cost a combined $65,000.

As cities and counties continue to negotiate, election officials will seek exceptions to state law in the legislative session beginning in January.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns is backing legislation that would move the primary election date from October to September, allow big cities to combine more precincts and loosen early voting requirements for smaller cities.

The league has the backing of Herbert and county clerks in seeking flexibility for the cities of varied sizes.

City recorders want to push back the primary because of the new early voting law, requiring two weeks of balloting before Election Day.

Only five weeks have separated municipal primary elections from the general election.

"That turnaround time for us to prepare for this election on an electronic system would be almost impossible," said Sherrie Swensen, Salt Lake County clerk.

Reprogramming the touch-screen machines would take extensive overtime.

Swensen and other urban election officials want more flexibility to combine precincts to cut down on the number of poll workers needed.

Small towns already have that flexibility and are now seeking to loosen the state's early voting law.

For smaller towns like Millville, early voting doesn't make a lot of sense, said City Recorder Rose Mary Jones.

Her Cache County town only has 1,800 residents. Jones says under the early voting law, she could personally collect the ballots from each registered voter and spend an hour chatting with them to boot.

"Some cities are open only four days a week, some open only one day a week," said Jones, who leads the Utah Municipal Clerks Association.

Swensen is pushing for by-mail elections, which she says is "the most economical thing the cities can do."

But Jones and Herbert are not sold on the idea, saying lawmakers are unlikely to give cities such flexibility so quickly.