SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah voters headed to the polls Tuesday with the opening of early voting across the state, as elections officials scrambled to register thousands of voters who registered online on the last possible day.
Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states in what promises to be a busy couple of weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
About 40,000 people registered to vote on the state's online website Monday, the last day to register to vote, according to Utah elections director Mark Thomas. In Utah County, elections officials had zero voter registrations to process on Monday, but came to work Tuesday morning with a list of 7,000 names to process.
"A lot of the counties got inundated late Monday," Thomas said. "It's really been quite impressive."
A presidential race that includes a candidate with ties to Utah — Republican nominee Mitt Romney — a couple of high-profile congressional races and two constitutional amendments appear to be generating interest among voters this year, Thomas said.
Already, 77,000 absentee ballots have been returned — more than a third of the 226,000 ballots that were mailed this year.
And there are still two weeks to go.
In 2008, voters returned about 86,000 absentee ballots total.
"It's an indication that people are excited. They want to vote," Thomas said. "We're preparing for a big turnout for the next two weeks as voting begins."
Early voting opened Tuesday across the state, with at least one polling site open in every Utah county except Duchesne, which has switched entirely to a vote-by-mail system.
Voters must have registered to vote at least 30 days prior to the Nov. 6 election in order to vote early. Unlike election day, when voters must go to their local precinct, voters may go to any polling site in their county during the early voting period.
Jan DeGiulio, 53, of Salt Lake City said she cast her ballot on the first day of early voting because didn't want to wait in long lines on election day. A Romney supporter, she also said she's ready for the election to be over.
"We need a change," DeGiulio said.
Rudolf Broennimann, a retiree with dual citizenship in Canada and Switzerland, waited patiently as his wife, Virginia, cast her vote at Salt Lake City's Trolley Square, an old trolley station converted to an upscale mall with shops and restaurants.
Virginia Broennimann, 83, said she voted to re-elect President Barack Obama "because God told me to."
"I don't study politics because I study spirituality, and I don't have time for both," said Broennimann, a Mormon. "But Obama is freedom — freedom from war, freedom from poverty."
State election officials have been satisfied when 75 percent of voters turned out in past election years when the presidential race topped the ballot, Thomas said, but the interest generated by several races could mean even higher turnout this year.