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Washington County making switch to mail-in ballots

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Washington County will conduct its first election with all mail-in ballots on Nov. 6. (File photo: KUTV)

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — One of Utah's most-populous counties is joining a trend across the state toward voting by mail.

Washington County will conduct its first election with all mail-in ballots on Nov. 6, The Spectrum newspaper reported.

The 75,000 registered voters in the Southern Utah county will see ballots appearing in their mailboxes in mid-October.

It's a good time to make the switch because the county is facing an expensive overhaul of decade-old voting machines, officials said.

"We've been dragging our feet and maybe going kicking and screaming into the vote-by-mail thing, but we're one of the few counties now who haven't, and I think that's where everyone is headed," said County Clerk Kim Hafen.

The county will still run six polling places on Election Day for people who prefer to cast their ballot in person.

The majority of counties in Utah already conduct elections by mail, a change that proponents say reduces the cost of running elections and increases voter turnout by letting people research the issues and mail back their ballots on their own schedules.

Washington County will likely see a voter-turnout bump similar to other Utah counties that have made the switch, said Henrie Walton, head of the Institute of Politics and Public Affairs at Dixie State University in St. George.

"The evidence seems pretty clear to me that this is a boon to turnout, especially among populations that have been slow to show up in the past," Walton said.

The county also has the advantage of coming late to the vote-by-mail party, he said, allowing them to plan ahead to avoid problems like long lines at polling places that other counties have experienced.

In Utah, 21 of the state's 29 counties had already switched to vote-by-mail as of the 2016 election, including Salt Lake City and its neighbors as well as Iron and Kane counties in the southern part of the state.

Washington County already offers mail-in ballots in rural districts and to people who request them.

Around the country, 22 states offer some version of vote by mail. Three states — Oregon, Colorado and Washington — do all their voting by mail.

Utah election officials say they keep the ballots safe by cross-checking voter signatures with state identification records and performing random audits.

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