SALT LAKE CITY — Looking forward to Super Tuesday? Utahns will soon have their chance to have a say in the presidential nomination process.
Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots are being delivered in mailboxes this week, giving Republicans, Democrats and those who have asked for waivers to vote in the Democratic primary a voice in the nominating process. Utah’s official primary date is March 3, when it joins several other states voting that day.
Here’s what you need to know heading into the primary election:
How the primary works
While it’s a state-funded primary, county clerks in Utah are tasked with overseeing the presidential primary for their individual counties, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen explained.
In Salt Lake County, officials sent 314,000 ballots to the post office for processing Monday. Those ballots were expected to be delivered to homes across the valley beginning Tuesday.
The same process is happening with Utah’s 28 other counties.
If you don’t receive a ballot, that means you’re not registered with either the Democratic or Republican parties. Unaffiliated voters still have until Feb. 25 — a week before the election — to seek a waiver to vote in the Democratic primary. The deadline for unaffiliated voters to join the Republican Party and receive a ballot for the primary passed on Feb. 3.
More than 34,000 unaffiliated voters have asked for ballots in Salt Lake County, Swensen said. That’s from the 210,000 letters sent out to unaffiliated voters asking them if they’d like a ballot for the primary.
People can vote in-person that day. Utahns should check with their county clerk’s office to find places where they can vote on March 3. Otherwise, all ballots must be postmarked by March 2.
However, people still have several months to register to vote in the November general election, which is open to all registered voters regardless of party.
What’s at stake
These primary elections help the two largest political parties determine who they will choose to represent their respective parties in November. President Donald Trump is all but certain to receive the official Republican nomination as he seeks a second term.
On March 3, there will likely be a handful of Democratic candidates still vying for the Democratic nomination. All indications are it could still be close heading into Super Tuesday. In the Iowa Caucus, former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly edged out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for one extra delegate from the state, according to the Des Moines Register.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rounded out the top 5.
The first presidential primary is in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Nevada will hold its caucus on Feb. 22 and South Carolina will have a primary on Feb. 29. Super Tuesday, March 3, is when Utah joins 13 other states in holding a statewide primary election. It could be the turning point as to who the parties’ frontrunners might be.
Again, this is for the U.S. presidential nomination of the two major political parties only. The general presidential election vote is Nov. 3.
Who will be on the ballot?
Everyone who registered as a presidential candidate with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office will be on the ballot.
One major change between Utah and Iowa is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has landed endorsements of Utah Rep. Ben McAdams and several other prominent Utah Democrats over the past few weeks, will be on Utah’s ballot.
However, you may also see the names of candidates who have dropped out of the race. That’s because the ballots had to be printed well in advance for overseas and military voters, Swensen said. She urged voters to check online to see who is still running for president before voting.
You may not have a winner on election night
We know Trump will most likely be declared the winner of the Republican presidential primary on March 3. However, it’s possible we won’t know who won the Democratic primary until days, or even two weeks after the election date.
No, this won’t be from a glitch in a phone app; it’s because the election is being conducted primarily by mail. Now that Utah has a few vote-by-mail elections under its belt, election officials have warned people that the days of learning who won on election night are over.
“What we’ve seen — and I’m sure it’ll happen again this time — is many people wait to vote their vote-by-mail ballot. They drop their ballot off at the last (minute),” Swensen said. “Especially in this situation, I expect that's because they’re waiting to see who is still in the contest.”
She points back to previous elections as examples. Salt Lake County officials had more than 100,000 vote-by-mail ballots turned in on Election Day during the 2018 election.
“When we get that many ballots on Election Day, we have a very labor-intensive process where we have to verify the signature on the ballot return affidavit on the envelope against the signature we have on file with that voter — every voter,” Swensen said. “It takes a lot of time to go through and process those.”
If the signatures don’t match, they contact the voter for further verification before that ballot counts. The final results after canvassing are expected on March 17.
If you think that’s exhausting now, just think about what it’ll be like in November.
Editor's note:This story has been updated to clarify the day when all ballots must be postmarked by.