Romney v. Wilson race coverage 07

Attendees of the watch party held for U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney wait in the conference room at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Orem.

Though voting numbers won’t be final until the election canvass Nov. 20, Utah County is on track to blow away its voter turnout for past midterm elections.

Utah County has already released the results of nearly 103,879 cast ballots, with approximately 72,500 left to process. Combined, that’s more than double the number of votes from the last comparable election, when 88,157 ballots were counted in the 2014 midterms.

Excluding numbers, which are currently unavailable, for voters who chose to register on Election Day, that translates to approximately 67 percent turnout of Utah County’s 260,000 registered voters — that’s if all the unprocessed ballots are valid. Ballots won’t be counted if they were postmarked too late.

The 67 percent turnout number is closer to that typically seen in presidential election years than midterms.

In the last three midterms, Utah County has had a voter turnout of 35 percent, 48 percent and 44 percent respectively, compared with 74 percent, 79 percent and 65 percent turnout in the past three presidential elections.

Seeing the number of ballots cast double over a four-year period is something Adam Brown, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, said was amazing.

Even with Utah County’s rapidly-growing population, it hasn’t come close to doubling in size in the past four years.

“If we doubled (votes cast), that would be a phenomenal increase,” Brown said.

Patterns in voter turnout tend to follow a set pattern, with presidential elections garnering the highest voter turnout, followed by midterms then municipal elections.

Brown attributes the jump in participation to the current political climate, particularly since the only close race in Utah County, that in the 4th Congressional District, encompasses a relatively small percentage of voters in the county.

Even a high-profile name like former presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the ballot does little to drive turnout, Brown said. Big-issue initiatives like Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana legalization can move the needle slightly — but not double.

“I’m having a hard time putting it anywhere other than the political moment we’re in,” Brown said.

Utah was not immune to a nationwide frustration with President Donald Trump, Brown said, and doubling the number of votes cast in a county with almost no competitive races shows a tremendous amount of energy in the election cycle.

But, Brown said understanding the increase may be difficult until we can compare it to turnout in the rest of the country.

“If turnout shot up here when there weren’t competitive races, 2020 will be exciting,” Brown said.

Katie England covers politics, the environment and courts for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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