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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is on track to have a large batch of results ready to be released at 8 p.m. on Election Day because so many voters are returning their ballots early, officials said.
"This is exactly what we wanted to see from voters: voting early and avoiding the polling locations. So this is very encouraging for us," said Justin Lee, Utah's director of elections.
As of Friday, county clerks across Utah reported that they had already processed 407,511 ballots for the Nov. 3 general election.
"It's a huge number of ballots that have already come back in," Lee said. "To put it in some perspective, we're already at a third of the people who voted in the 2016 presidential election."
For comparison, in the 2016 general election, Utahns cast a total of 1,152,369 ballots.
Unlike some states that can't open ballots until Election Day, Utah's county clerks are allowed to start processing ballots the moment they are returned.
"County clerks are reviewing signatures right now," Lee explained. "They're separating ballots from the envelopes and they're running them through the machines."
Even though ballots are processed through the scanning machines, Lee said the results aren't tabulated until right before results are released on election night.
As of today, #Utah has already processed 407,511 mail-in ballots.— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) October 23, 2020
“This is exactly what we wanted to see from voters," said #elections director @justinrobinlee@ElectionsUtah "So this is very encouraging for us."@KSL5TV@KSLcom@kslnewsradio#ElectionDaypic.twitter.com/ghJLQOHpvY
Processing ballots as they come in also prevents someone from voting twice.
"If someone tries to go to the polls on Election Day or during early voting, we'll know whether there's an outstanding ballot for them or if they've already voted," Lee said. "It's one of our protections against fraud and double voting."
Another part of the process involves reviewing ballots that have extra markings or corrections. At this point in the process, the ballot is anonymous.
"Some people do make a mistake on their ballot, or they change their mind, or realize they filled in the wrong oval," Lee said. "What county clerks are looking for is the voter intent."
Teams of two election workers go through each ballot that needs a decision. Observers are allowed to watch the adjudication process.
"That's really what they're looking for is, 'Can we tell what the voter is voting?'" Lee said. "What we don't want people to do is kind of scribble all over it and make a mess or anything that makes it difficult to tell, but any clear demarcation will help the counties."
If you make a mistake and feel your intent won't be clear, contact your county clerk for a new ballot or to vote in person.
Friday was the last day for online voter registration in Utah. However, residents can still register to vote in-person during early voting and on Election Day.