How voter access laws and passion brought people to the polls

This article originally appeared in The Press of Atlantic City. Read it in its entirety here.

WASHINGTON — In Utah, marijuana revved up voter interest last year, and new election policies made it easier for people to cast their ballots, leading to the nation’s biggest jump in midterm turnout.

Around the country, state efforts to widen ballot access and Trump-era political passion spurred more voters to the polls in November than the last midterm elections in 2014. Nationally, 53% of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2018, a 12-point bump from the previous midterms, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The increases ranged from 21 points in Utah, where about 58% of voting-age citizens voted, down to Colorado, where there was little change. Turnout already was high in Colorado at 59%, partly because the state was a pioneer in expanding ballot access.

Georgia (13 points) and California (15 points) saw big improvements with similar programs, such as automatic voter registration.

States with more restrictive voting policies didn’t always see the same results. While turnout increased in New York and Texas, both of which still require early registration, they remained in the bottom 10 among states, with turnout below 50% of citizens despite some hot races.

Utah’s turnout vaulted from 45th in the nation in 2014 to 13th in 2018, the first year all counties used both same-day registration and vote-at-home options. The state also allows residents to enroll in automatic voter registration when they get new driver’s licenses.

“The legislature has always passed the policies that take away barriers to voting, balanced with measures to make sure people are who they say they are,” said Justin Lee, Utah’s director of elections.

Utah’s turnout rose from about 37% of citizens in 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in April.

The biggest vote-getter in Utah was a medical marijuana initiative, which got more than a million votes and passed by a close margin.

That issue, along with ballot initiatives on independent redistricting and Medicaid expansion, gave millennials a reason to vote, and nonprofits reached out to them throughout the year in registration drives, said Chase Thomas, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, a nonprofit watchdog group.

“These issues really energized the left-leaning segment of our electorate in Salt Lake County and other parts of the state that has felt their vote didn’t really matter before because of the extreme conservative bent,” Thomas said.

This article originally appeared in The Press of Atlantic City. Read it in its entirety here.

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