Afghanistan voter turnout higher than Utah

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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If you vote next Tuesday in the primary elections, you may run the risk of getting a paper-cut while opening your vote-by-mail envelope or stubbing your finger grabbing for your car keys, but one thing is certain, you won’t lose your finger. That wasn’t the case for a group of 11 Afghan men who had their fingers cut off simply for voting in the Afghan presidential election over the weekend.

According to reports by the BBC, the Taliban threatened voters with repercussions for participating in the presidential election. Fingers weren’t the worst of it. About 50 people were killed by Taliban attacks on Saturday, five of which were election workers.

Even with the threat to life and limb, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission estimates that over 60% of eligible voters participated in the weekend election.

Targeting voters in Afghanistan is relatively easy. Voters had their index fingers dipped in ink to prevent them from voting more than once. But voting isn’t even the hardest part of holding an election in Afghanistan. Counting those votes can prove just as tricky.

Due to the harsh landscape, thousands of donkeys are used to transport ballots to remote villages throughout the country. The vote isn’t expected to be finalized for weeks.

Compare that to here, where our biggest inconvenience is making sure we have enough gas in our cars before driving the walking-distance-length to our polling location. No smelly donkeys, no ink-stained fingers, no violence–not even threats of violence. Yet voter turnout in Utah, despite its significantly lower risk, is still lower than the 60 percent turnout in Afghanistan.
In 2012, the last time Utahns participated in a presidential election, voter turnout in the state was at 56%. And in an off-year election like this year, the turnout could be as much as half of that. For younger voters it is even lower. A poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics earlier this year found that only 25% of 18- to 29-year-old voters plan to vote this Fall.

We’ve become so apathetic that we can’t be bothered to lift our fingers, let alone risk losing them.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, Utah has a proud heritage of civic participation. As a territory, we abandoned the controversial, though culturally significant practice, of polygamy just to be admitted to the Union. And it was through politically active women’s organizations that Utah became only the second state to extend suffrage to its female citizens.

Americans are often derided by moral conservatives as lazy and selfish–too wrapped up in the comforts of consumerism to give a damn about civic matters. Although we continue to resist that characterization of the America we love, those eleven Afghan fingers are giving us pause to think otherwise.

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