U Students Encourage others to Become Politically Active

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With the upcoming 2016 presidential election and a heated local mayoral race, Utah is entering the heart of election season and some U students are taking action to increase political involvement.

The Lieutenant Governor’s office reported that Utah had a historically low voter turnout in the 2014 election. The numbers are always lower in years there isn’t a presidential election, but Utah’s poor results has prompted some students to try and change things.

Vote Utah, a collaboration of Utah broadcasters providing political information, notes that voter turnout is especially low for younger voters aged 18 to 29.

Andy Hulka, a first-year graduate student in city and metropolitan planning, has volunteered at HeadCount, an organization that attends concerts and helps in the registration process.

“For most of us, we don’t have a lot of time,” Hulka said, explaining a possible reason for low voter turnout. “A lot of us aren’t from Utah. It’s the natural inclination to not be involved.”

Students’ opinions and participation in politics varies. Many students report doing their best to be involved but struggle with their workloads or are hesitant to enter political discussions.

“There’s too much negativity with political discussions,” said Michael Sorger, a freshman in computer science. “I like to keep an open mind, [but] I don’t get involved in conversations, because if I say something wrong, it gets hostile.”

Scott Wood, a senior in philosophy, leads the local chapter of the Socialist Alternative club at the U. Aside from being a social activity, Wood said he thinks involvement is limited because people don’t like negativity.

“[It] would definitely be a turn-off,” Wood said. “When we see negativity in campaigns it’s because they don’t have a lot to say or ways to distinguish themselves.”

Wood also said representation plays a role as well. Turnout is much higher when people find a candidate they are passionate about.

“Politicians aren’t going to listen to you or do things for you unless you make them and hold them to account,” Wood said.

Dallon Cooper, a senior in philosophy and president of the U College Democrats, suspects Salt Lake’s low rate may come from citizens who feel their vote has no worth. A Democrat in Utah may think it’s pointless to fill out a ballot because the state will go to the Republicans. Likewise, a Republican may think the state will go red without their contribution.

Aside from political clubs, other ways to stay informed include the Hinckley Institute of Politics’ ongoing “Pizza and Politics” series, which gives students an opportunity to engage with local politicians and to discuss relevant topics. Advisers can connect students to school political events and local campaigns, and grassroots movements are always looking for more volunteers.

“Join a cause, lobby for something. You need to have passion for it,” Cooper said. “The power is in our hands.”

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