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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Voter turnout disappointing

By Kelly O?Neill

Last spring, the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 126, which required voters to present identification in order to vote on Election Day. Many were worried that the extra hurdle would disenfranchise many would-be voters and cast a feeling of distrust upon the electorate. Well, the votes from last week are in, and it doesn’t look like the new I.D. requirement had a negative impact on the turnout of the electorate.

After extensive news coverage, website announcements and direct mail notifications, some people still didn’t get the memo about the new I.D. requirement. Fortunately, only five out of 93,338 voters in Salt Lake County showed up at the polls without their I.D. and had to cast a provisional ballot, said Sherrie Swensen, Salt Lake County clerk.

While researching the new voter I.D. requirement’s effect on the turnout of this election cycle, I became more concerned with Utah’s voter turnout overall. Poor voter turnout in the United States is nothing new, but Utah’s numbers are particularly lagging, especially when it comes to local elections.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that of the 1,022,651 residents living in Salt Lake County in 2008, 518,448 residents are registered voters. Last week’s election recorded an 18 percent turnout in Salt Lake County.

Utah and Hawaii are among the states with the lowest voter turnout, reporting 52 percent in the last presidential election, compared to the 75 percent turnout rates of Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why Utahns choose not to vote, including what many see as the state’s unchangeable, long-standing conservative political views.

“Many Utahns don’t go to the polls because they feel as though it is a forgone conclusion that the electoral votes will go to a particular candidate,” Swensen said. “But there are so many other races to vote on, people get excited about the presidential election but forget about local races and other things that are important.”

Last week’s election included the appointment of city council members and a proposition to build a new public safety building downtown for Salt Lake City residents. As these two issues are nonpartisan in nature, what excuses do Utahns have for not voting? Many deem municipal elections to be irrelevant, but last week’s elections were important because they included local representation and a possible tax increase for Salt Lake residents.

Although federal elections receive the most attention, local elections are just as important. Local officials have worked tirelessly to increase voter turnout by showing up at some unlikely places to get people registered and attempting to increase voter awareness about elections, but it is ultimately the citizens’ responsibility to register to vote and the cast their ballot.

“We’ve gone to senior expos, home shows and boat shows to hold voter registration drives and to answer questions in person,” Swensen said. “Outreach programs make people feel good about voting because they are informed.”

No more excuses, Utah. Believe it or not, political change is possible in our state, and the easiest way to get the ball rolling is to show up at the polls on the next municipal Election Day and pay attention to local politics in the meantime. If you want to see a change in your government, you can’t expect it to happen until you take the first step to engage with it by exercising your right to vote.

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