SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The lines are shorter at election day polling places these days, and the hustle and bustle is a far cry from what it used to be.
A steady increase of mail-in voting in Utah has significantly changed the election landscape, not only forcing candidates to adjust the way they run their campaigns, but also diminishing the importance of election day.
Ten of Utah’s 29 counties are doing all mail-in voting this year — up from just one county in 2012.
Mail-in voting has more than doubled from 2008 to 2012, when nearly one in five cast ballots this way, state figures show. As of Monday, nearly 194,000 early ballots have already been cast, state figures show. That’s about one-third of the number of votes expected to be cast this year.
Though campaigns have to chase votes earlier and plan events sooner, politicos from both parties say the early-voting movement is positive because it increases turnout and gives voters more time to study the ballot and make educated decisions.
“It helps people who have a busy schedule,” said Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. “For most people, politics doesn’t run their everyday lives.”
The increase in early voting has stretched out the election cycle, which can be more taxing, but also provides opportunities to narrowly focus voter outreach, Dave Hansen, a longtime political campaign manager who is running Republican Mia Love’s this season.
For instance, candidates can get updated list of voters who receive mail-in ballots and who has turned them in.
“You can call them back and call them back until they vote,” Hansen said. “By the time you get close to the election, your list of potential targets out there has been reduced anywhere from 35-40 percent.”
Duchesne County was the first in 2012 to do all mail voting, and the experience was positive, said JoAnn Evans, chief deputy clerk. They saw increased voter turnout: 83 percent of active voters. They chalked it up to people having more time to review the ballot.
“The younger generation is just so busy that it’s easier to fill out at their own convenience,” Evans said. “With their own family, they can talk politics. At a polling location, you can’t talk politics.”
This year, nine counties have joined Duchesne doing all-mail elections: Beaver, Cache, Davis, Garfield, Grand, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier and Wayne.
Nearly everyone agrees the trend is positive, but Hansen is among a contingent that misses the energy and vibe of busy election days that used to feel almost like a football game day.
“You miss the lines at the voting place starting at 7 a.m., and working all day long trying to get people to the polls,” Hansen said. “There was something exciting about it.”