Voting is one of the most fundamental aspects of our democracy and one of the most basic rights we have as citizens. Unfortunately, voting is in crisis in Utah. This crisis is the result of both restrictive laws that make registering and casting a ballot more difficult and political apathy on the part of citizens. Utah has a voting problem.
In the 2012 general election, only 57% of Utah’s eligible voters cast a ballot, making it one of the lowest turnout rates in the country. You would think that with Mitt Romney on the ballot, the man who saved the Salt Lake Olympics, voter turnout in the state would have been high.
Unfortunately, the percentage of eligible voters participating in the electoral process was consistent with Utah’s trend of low voter turnout. These low turnout rates are the result of a lack of competitive elections, stringent laws that make it difficult to register and cast a ballot, and the caucus system for nominating candidates. All of these factors combine to create an attitude of who cares; my vote doesn’t matter anyway, so why should I jump through the hoops?
In fact, one bill so far that has had the potential to improve our electoral process was defeated in committee. I am talking about HB 258, the bill that would have eliminated the straight ticket voting option on our ballots. This bill would have encouraged a better informed electorate and higher voter turnout. Predictably this bill was defeated before it reached the floor. But there appears to be hope on the horizon.
Rep. Spencer Cox, a republican from Fairview, Utah, is sponsoring a bill that would allow same day voter registration. The last several years Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck has sponsored similar legislation. Unfortunately, those earlier bills never made it out of committee. Chatter on the hill suggests this year could be different. I’ll be following this bill closely.
In addition to same day voting, experts agree that there are steps the state legislature could take to address the problem of low voter turnout by making registering to vote easier. This could be achieved through automatic registration when you get a driver’s license or when you fill out a state tax form. Voter identification requirements could also be lightened, by broadening the forms of acceptable ID. Voting by mail could become more accessible and encouraged. These are all solutions to Utah’s turnout problem.
And though right now these steps might sound more like a wish list than a policy recommendation, Rep. Cox’s bill gives me hope that legislators might be more serious this year about improving Utah’s voter turnout.