Sparking voter turnout

By By Aaron Zundel

By Aaron Zundel

Let me guess: you didn’t vote last November. You wanted to, but it was a busy day and you just couldn’t pry yourself away from the TiVo long enough to make it happen. You feel bad (sort of), but then again, you feel like your vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway because this is Utah, where election results are predetermined before the polls even open.

Am I close? Thought so.

I’m not clairvoyant, of course. Like all other sideshow mind readers, I’m just well-informed.

According to the United States Election Project at George Mason University, Utah’s 2008 voter turnout ranked among the lowest in the country. The study found that only 53.8 percent of eligible Utahns cast their ballots in 2008. Even worse, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a youth-oriented voter action group based out of Tufts University, a paltry 26 percent of eligible Utah voters in the 18 to 29 age group (that’s us, my fellow U students) exercised their right to vote that year.

In response to our state’s shocking voter apathy, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced the formation of the Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy. The lack of voter participation in Utah, at least according to the governor, seems to be centered around the common perception that our local government is dominated by a single political party. This party is controlled by deeply entrenched special interest groups, and thus disempowers rank-and-file Utahns when it comes to their civic duty to vote. Headed by Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, and co-chaired by the U’s own Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinkley Institute of Politics the 16&-member commission hopes to investigate those perceptions, primarily by focusing on ethics reform.

The commission will be examining everything from the state’s ethics laws8212;including laws governing gifts to legislators and conflicts of interest8212;to election reform in the state’s caucus and convention system, with the hopes that “we can increase civic engagement and democratic participation…we want to go through the laws to come up with some recommendations or conclusions to provide more guidance on how things need to change,” Jowers said.

Although the commission refused to comment on any specific ethics legislation, it does hope to have an objective report by fall to help Huntsman get a feel for where the state’s political system has become unfair, unbalanced or what it is doing right. Jowers said they “hope to go through laws to come up with recommendations or conclusions to provide more guidance to the governor.”

“Public perception becomes reality,” Jowers said, I agree. Regardless of the commission’s findings, the fact that we now have a bipartisan committee to investigate our state’s often bewildering political system can only be a good thing8212;at least as long as Utahns feel their concerns are adequately addressed in the findings. In order to do that, not only will the commission have to be determined in its resolve to look unflinchingly at the issues, but rank-and-file Utahns will have to be involved to make sure their concerns are heard8212;especially the younger generation that will inherit the commission’s finding and any subsequent changes to the system.

Luckily for U students, Jowers agreed, and he’s opening up the commission’s doors to student participation.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “Utah is the youngest state in the nation and younger people are least likely to get involved. As always, we offer internships to students who wish to see how the process works…there’s always room for people who want to make contributions in this area.”

So, who knows? Maybe the commission’s findings will vindicate the decision you made last November to stay at home with your TiVo. Maybe they’ll find evidence to support the belief that voting in Utah is more of a formality than a process. Or maybe they won’t.

One thing is for sure8212;come next election, the excuse that you don’t have an opportunity to be part of the process won’t fly anymore. If you decide to stick with the TiVo instead of casting your ballot, you’ll just be another member of that loathsome species, Ignoramus Americanus.

Go get involved.

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