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Election officials concerned over expected in-person voting turnout

FILE- A employee at the Utah County Election office puts mail in ballots into a container to register the vote in the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

UTAH COUNTY — With four days until Election Day, some election officials say they’re worried about the expected turnout at in-person polling locations on Tuesday. 

Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner said she’s “absolutely concerned” about the high-level turnout at the polls, specifically in Utah County. 

“The largest election that I have run in office is 107,000 votes,” Powers Gardner told KSL NewsRadio. “We’re expecting 250,000 voters. Which means there are 140,000 people in Utah County that have never voted with us using all paper ballots, including at the polls.”

Expected election turnout at in-person polls

In-person voters will receive paper ballots at polling locations this year, rather than submitting their votes through machines. This is new for Utah County, which previously utilized polling machines until 2019. 

“Which means we’re going to have 140,000 people that think if they show up to the polling locations, they’re going to be pushing a button on a screen,” Powers Gardner said. 

Instead, voters will arrive to in-person polling locations on Election Day to receive a paper ballot — the exact ballot sent out to mail-in voters.

When voters arrive, election officials will scan IDs before distributing these paper ballots. Voters will then be sent out of the polling location (adhering to COVID social distancing guidelines) before dropping it off in a ballot drop box. 

It’s the same process as mail-in voting — which Powers Gardner said she doesn’t think many voters realize. 

“We’re really concerned that there’s going to be a lot of people who got a ballot at home, could have filled it out and even brought it to the polling location to put it in our drop off polling location — but think that they’re going to have a machine at the polling location,” she said. “They’re going to show up, and there’s not going to be a machine. So I do worry about that.”

Officials expect increased election security

However, Powers Gardner said the shift to paper ballots should help with efficiency and election security. 

“Your ballots look the exact same,” Powers Gardner said. “This helps us for auditing purposes, this helps us with security, we have less processes that there could possibly be an issue with. So, it really is a more safe and secure election.”

With the use of paper ballots, election officials can filter through more voters in a shorter amount of time. With polling machines, only one voter can be helped at a time. But with paper ballots, Powers Gardner said voters can go at their own pace without impeding the line. 

“I didn’t want that to be a problem anymore,” Powers Gardner said. “When you have a machine, you can’t serve the next person in line until that machine is free.”