Primary Election Voter Turnout Is Up in Summit & Wasatch Counties

Jun 29, 2018

Voting in Primary Elections in Utah can be confusing unless you affiliate with either the Republican or Democratic Party.  The Vote by Mail system has proven to increase participation but there are still substantial numbers of registered voters who don’t cast a Primary Ballot due to the decisions made by the Republican State Party along with the County Clerks who decide which ballots are sent out.  Carolyn Murray has this:

 The Wasatch County Clerk, Brent Titcomb says Vote by Mail has increased voter turnout. They have nearly 15,000 registered voters and 32% sent in ballots for the June 26th Primary Election. 

“When we didn’t send out the ballots, we were closer to just 16 % turnout which at that time was just pitiful. And we even had 6 % turnout in different elections. It makes me very happy that more people are voting this way. Even though there’s more confusion, it definitely does bring out the voters.”

Summit County has 13,000 registered voters and County Clerk, Kent Jones says he expects the turnout to be 41 to 42 %, although he’s still waiting for final figures as of this report. He says voter turnout increased by about 15 % over the 2016 primary.

Both Summit and Wasatch County Clerks admit the Primary Ballot System is confusing to many people because if you are one of the thousands of unaffiliated voters, didntt get a primary ballot in the mail. 

The political parties in the state of Utah are private and can make their own voting participation rules.  Only registered Republicans can vote in Republican Primaries. Democrats have an open system allowing anyone to cast a ballot. 

    Summit County Clerk Kent Jones says the voter makes a choice when they register to vote. There are about 10,000 unaffiliated voters in Summit County. Jones agrees that the Primary Election System is confusing.  

“If they were unaffiliated, they could request a Democrat ballot or they could affiliate as a Republican and get a Republican ballot.  It’s just a little confusing to the public, what all the rules are.”

Titcomb says it would be easier if both parties had the same rules. He thinks the confusion could discourage people from voting.  His office sends a card prior to each Primary Election to remind unaffiliated voters they have to request a ballot in order to vote. 

“I know the Democrat Party would love for us to send their ballot to everyone because everyone has the chance to vote it, but it just throws a whole other layer of confusion out to the voters. It’s just my personal wish that all parties would do the same.  Whether it’s closed or open, I truly don’t care because if I sent the Democrat ballot to all unaffiliated, would it cause the Republican Party to rethink their closed Primary….I don’t know if it would or not.”

Jones says Summit County sent instructions out to all registered voters a couple of years ago but not for this recent election.   

“If you register Unaffiliated, It’s not my jobto try and change that or influence you in any way.  You made that choice.  I didn’t.”

A person can register as a Republican on Election Day at the polls, then vote in the Republican Primary or they can vote on the Democratic ticket without changing their party affiliation.  Jones says the Clerk’s office operates off of the party rules.

“There are so many different rules and different scenarios that can happen in a Primary. As you know, nobody gets elected in a Primary.  It’s just to choose the candidate for the party.”

Primary-Out Representative, Greg Shultz is a Republican who is focused on voter registration and finding more moderate Republican candidates to run in Primary Elections. He started an organization called Primary-

Out which encourages all voters to register in the Republican Party so they can vote in the Primary Election.  He says if you win a primary election as a Republican in Utah, you are a shoe in to win the General Election. 

“And you have this very small group of people picking candidates who were all just crushed in the primary and we all know it wasn’t even close because the average Utah Republican is very moderate. The Primary Election process in Utah is totally kooky.  We should just do it like most staes where you go into a booth and spend two minutes telling the government who you want to represent you.”

All but two counties in Utah used the Vote by Mail system for this Primary Election. Statewide reports indicate that participation increases with the option.  But, with fewer polling locations and confusion over who gets ballots sent to their homes, there are still many thousands of registered voters who aren’t voting in Primary Elections.