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Live Mic: Mail-in primary election in Utah is one for the books

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than half a million voters in Utah mailed in their votes in the June 30 primary election.

Justin Lee, state director of elections at the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, joined guest hosts Jason Perry and Morgan Lyon Cotti on Live Mic to discuss the Republican primary election for governor.

Perry asked Lee what he attributed to the more than 525,000 voters participating in the primary.

“Overall turnout is a little higher than that. We’re closer to 560,000 total votes in the state,” Lee said.

In contrast, Lee said in the 2016 primary in Utah, 246,000 votes were cast for governor. He added that in the 2014 general election, 575,000 total votes in the state were cast.

Utah top of class in primary election

Cotti noted that the Brookings Institute gave only Utah, five others and D.C. an “A” grade in its Voting by Mail During a Pandemic. 

“Tell us what groundwork happened over the last decade to get us ready for this and how we got this A?” she asked.

Lee said in 2012 a bill was passed that allowed any county in the state to run an election by mail. Duchesne County took advantage of that option. By 2014, 10 counties were voting by mail; 2016, 21 counties; 2018, 27. And in March for the 2020 presidential primary, all 29 counties in the state were voting by mail. 

“We are in a very good place — a place where most states would like to be,” Lee said.

Lee said about 10 percent of Utah voters still vote in person. He added that seven counties offered a drive-through voting option for the primary and about 5,000 voters exercised that option.

“What do you see for November? Is it going to be all mail-in ballots again, regardless of what’s happening in terms of the virus?” Perry asked. “Is this the new way of voting in Utah?”

Lee said the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to show up during the Super Tuesday presidential primary in March.

“90 percent of people voted by mail before it was a health concern,” he said. “I think vote-by-mail is the norm in this state.”

Lee said that there will always be some kind of in-person aspect to voting. 

“There are voters who will need those accessible machines. A blind or visually-impaired voter needs those machines that will help them to hear the audio to explain the ballot to them,” Lee said.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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