2020 Election: Where Utah's record voter turnout was the best and worst

A couple walk up to Vivint SmartHome Arena to vote in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The 2020 election will go down in history for many reasons, including the record turnout across the U.S.

The Beehive State was no exception in that category.

The state's election turnout data only dates back to 1960; but according to the certified results of the Nov. 3 election, a record 90.09% of active Utah voters cast ballots in 2020.

It surpassed the previous record of 89.6% in 1964, which was when Lyndon B. Johnson won rather easily in Utah and was elected president in a landslide in the electoral college. Back then, Utah's population was a tick over 400,000 — roughly one-third the size of Salt Lake County today.

Meanwhile, the percentage of active voters in Utah who cast ballots increased 14.5 percentage points from 2018, which was the last statewide election. Of course, midterm elections typically result in lower turnout than presidential elections. The 2020 election resulted in an 8 percentage point increase from the 82% turnout in 2016.

It appears more Utahns became engaged in politics this year, too. The percentage of votes cast to Utahns who were eligible to vote was 69.17%. The statistic, which takes into account residents who weren't actively registered to vote, only goes back to 2000. Nevertheless, the 2020 election produced, at the very least, the highest total in that category in 20 years. In fact, more than 1.5 million ballots were cast, which was more than active registered voters in 2018.

Some votes were thrown out, due to issues with a ballot, but not many. Governor-elect Spencer Cox tweeted Monday that just 0.8% of all votes cast were rejected, which aligned with previous elections.

"WOW! Utah, you showed up this year," his tweet read, in part.

Turnout was large outside of Utah. Well over 150 million votes cast for president in 2020, according to Associated Press data. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the projected president-elect, received more than 80 million votes, while President Donald Trump received a little over 73.8 million votes, based on these estimations. Both numbers are records in terms of total votes cast for a president.

While the turnout was impressive, it doesn't appear the country's record for voter turnout percentage, which was 81.2% set in 1876, will be threatened. All states are to have their elections certified by Dec. 8.

Utah voter turnout by county

What makes Utah's turnout impressive is that all 29 of Utah's counties experienced turnout well over 80%. Even the county with the lowest turnout — Juab at 84.73% — posted numbers higher than Utah's total turnout in any previous statewide election since 1964. During the last presidential election, Carbon County posted the lowest rate at 70.68%.

An astounding 16 counties posted turnouts of at least 90%, including Salt Lake at 90.11%. Wayne County led the state with a turnout of 93.11%

Highest 2020 Voter Turnout:

  • Wayne: 93.11%
  • Iron: 92.83%
  • Summit: 92.44%
  • Rich: 92.34%
  • Cache: 92.28%

Lowest 2020 Voter Turnout:

  • Juab: 84.73%
  • Kane: 85.12%
  • Duchesne: 86.60%
  • Garfield: 87.36%
  • Piute: 87.59%

In comparison, just five counties posted turnouts above 80% two years ago during the best turnout of a midterm election in state history. There were several counties with at least 80% during the last presidential election but just three exceeded 90% in 2016.

The data seems to indicate the power of vote-by-mail when it comes to participation. The 2020 election was Utah's first primarily mail-in ballot presidential election for every county. According to Cox, 94% of votes cast in 2020, or more than 1.4 million ballots in total, were either returned by mail or delivered in a dropbox. That's compared to 67% in 2016.

Participation has drastically increased since vote-by-mail was introduced in 2013 and widely adopted in 2016 and 2018. An average of about 71.5% of active voters showed up for the last five presidential elections before 2013 (1996-2012).

Participation in midterm elections dropped to as low as 44.73% in 2006 and remained low until Utah's participation rose to 75.55% in 2018. About 90% of the ballots cast that year came via mail or drop boxes, Cox said.

No matter what the cause was, it's clear Utah voters were engaged in the 2020 election.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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