ST. GEORGE — Voter turnout in Washington County for the midterm election rivaled that of the 2016 presidential election, according to official numbers approved Tuesday by the County Commission.
According to the numbers presented by Washington County Clerk Kim Hafen, voter turnout for the general election was around 78.6 percent – or 61,648 of the county’s 78,205 registered voters. In 2016, the turnout was at 78.7 percent.
In contrast, the 2014 midterm election turnout was 44.8 percent.
“This election was pretty exciting,” Hafen said.
Washington County elections clerk Melanie Abplanalp called the turnout “a huge and historic increase.”
Tuesday’s official canvass did not impact the outcome of the races reported election night.
While part of the credit for the larger turnout is given to the county shifting to a vote-by-mail system, Hafen said there were other factors at play as well.
“I don’t think voting by mail is going to take all the credit for the turnout, because there were things on the ballot that people were interested in,” he said.
Statewide, there was a ballot question and three propositions related to supporting a 10 cent gas tax for road and education funding, legalizing medical marijuana, approving Medicaid expansion and establishing an independent commission to counter political district gerrymandering.
Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana, drew the most attention and controversy.
Nonbinding opinion question 1, the gas tax hike, failed in the county and statewide. The three propositions also failed in the county yet passed in the state.
The increased turnout is considered a vast improvement over previous years, both Hafen and Abplanalp said.
“We’re most pleased with how many people voted,” Abplanalp said.
While the bulk of ballots were mailed in, many people still went to four polling locations offered by the county on Election Day. Though the lines were long at times, Abplanalp told St. George News the process ran smoothly on their end.
“We’ve had a very positive response,” she said.
There have been questions about whether voting demographics in Washington County – a very red county – had changed in recent years with continuing growth, Hafen said.
“There were more votes, but not much of a change in percentage,” he said.
Republican incumbents who faced Democrat or third party challengers drew in the usual 70-76 percent while many of their opponents garnered 21-24 percent.
Hafen pointed to the race for Washington County Commissioner Seat A as one of the examples of the county’s relatively unchanged voting habits.
In that race, Republican candidate Gil Almquist, received 44,640 votes, or 75.2 percent, to Democratic challenger Robert E. Ford’s 24.8 percent with 14,738 votes.
Hafen also noted that Republican Mitt Romney did a little better in Washington County than he did at the state level in his successful race for U.S. Senate. He garnered 70.4 percent in the county compared to the overall Utah vote at 62.6 percent.
Ballot propositions related to the Diamond Valley Fire District and what could be considered referendums on ordinances in Virgin expanding commercial zones were also highlighted during the commission meeting.
Proposition 18 allows the Diamond Valley Fire District to switch from collecting a service fee to getting its funding through property taxes starting in 2019. It passed with 299 votes to 137.
Propositions 20 and 21, the referendum-style ballot items, both failed, Hafen said. That effectively leaves the ordinances in place.
A $125 million bond put on the ballot by the Washington County School District was initially too close to call, yet held a 51.41 percent to 49.59 percent lead. That translated to 22,666 votes in favor of the bond to 22,296 against election night.
The numbers have since settled at 29,896 votes in favor and 28,110 against.
A recount of the votes can be demanded within seven days of the official canvassing, Hafen said.
Overall, Hafen said he felt going to mail-in ballots helped generate a higher voter turnout.
“We hope vote by mail is better,” he said. “It was a great turnout.”
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