“Vote! Vote! Vo-…oh, that’s not how we wanted you to vote… Sit back down and be quiet, you didn’t know what you were voting for.”- The story of the Utah legislature from the perspective of a young Utahn.
We’re nearly through with the 2019 legislative session and one thing is frustratingly clear: our representatives have grossly underestimated the criticality of their actions. Several political leaders and commentators have voiced concern over the negative implications this session’s initiative repeal process might have on future voting habits, especially in regards to young voters. As a young voter myself, I can attest, there is substantial cause for concern.
At 21-years-old, I belong to the generation whose voting-virginity was taken by a presidential election stained with headlines reading: fraud, nasty, and rigged. A generation denied the promised prestige of democracy and instead got the ugly, mudslinging dramatics of 2016. I came away from that election disappointed and frustrated, but more than anything, I was nervous. I worried fellow first-time voters would be repelled by the grotesque circus that certain presidential candidates had made of government during a time when our voices in policy and politics were more crucial than ever.
Over the next two years, relief replaced the worry as individuals and organizations across Utah rallied to bring more citizens to the polls, reminding us that participation in local-level politics is critical to maintaining an ethical and just government; a government that citizens can trust.
Perhaps it was the ease of mail-in ballots, the ability to register at the polls, the nonstop efforts of impassioned volunteers, or the overwhelming need for restitution, but young voters showed up to the midterms in unprecedented numbers. The numbers were thrilling, with over 75% of registered voters participating in the 2018 midterms, compared to 2014’s, 46%. In a time when we could’ve been discouraged, we chose instead to rise to the occasion with renewed passion and energy.
The greatest evidence of this passion (across all ages): Proposition 2, Proposition 3, and Proposition 4. Initiatives written for the people, passed by the people. Despite the pushback from the majority party in the state Legislature, the citizens’ need for change was evident as each initiative passed with the majority vote. Fast forward to today: Proposition 2, legalizing medical cannabis, was replaced with a compromise bill strongly criticized for bowing to the will of the LDS Church. Proposition 3, Medicaid expansion, has been repealed and replaced with Senator Christensen’s Bill SB 96. And while Proposition 4 is safe for now, statements from Republican party leadership suggest it won’t be safe from legislative meddling for long.
Some representatives argue that they have done nothing wrong, with patronizing statements like “the voters didn’t know what they were voting on.” While it’s true that Utah law gives them the legal right to repeal and reform initiatives, it is also true that at such a critical moment in time, our representatives’ actions mattered more than their legal right to make adjustments. In a moment when they had the power to repair their constituents broken trust in government, they instead shattered it.
Our representatives have undermined the legitimacy of the very institution they operate in the eyes of many Utahns, and to put it plainly, they’ve lost any trust that my generation had in them or the system.
At the end of the day, I anticipate the repercussions of this legislative session will lead to one of three outcomes. One: an enabled sense of apathy and disenchantment that keeps young voters away from the polls generating a substantial gap in the demographics of voters in the next elections. Two: a return to marginal voter turnout that sustains the current state of Utah politics with the demographics in favor of anti-progress. Three: (this is the one I’m excited about) a progressive surge of revolutionary voter turnout among my generation that finally balances out the regressive voices in our state’s public discourse.
The preceding generations have already left us plenty of dirt to clean up: climate change, inaccessible healthcare, insufficient housing… you get it. We have no choice but to clean up that mess, and after our legislators’ actions in this session, I know we’d be more than happy to start the cleanup with the Utah legislature.
Come 2020, legislators who voted against the will of their constituents with SB 96 will do everything in their power to seduce their districts into reelection. My generation must harness their anger and distrust to once again rise to the occasion, recognize the corruption, and vote them out.
Shaela Adams is a communications intern at Alliance for a Better Utah