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Voter turnout

Published November 26, 2012 5:18 pm

Utah should be more voter-friendly
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Our government functions best when more people participate on the one day when the doors stand open the widest: Election Day.

Utah election participation falls short of this ideal, even as election officials pay lip service to it by using a deceptive method of calculating voter turnout.

Instead of comparing total votes to the number of voting-age residents of the state, or even to the number of registered voters, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's otherwise competent election division insists on figuring turnout based on its own rosy scenario baseline: "active registered voters."

That's a cadre of Utahns who, by the state's lights, have shown up for enough recent elections to be considered serious exercisers of the franchise. Cooking the books in that manner, 1.028 million ballots cast divided by 1.285 million "active" voters equals an impressive turnout of 80 percent.

But figuring the percentage of voting-age citizens who actually vote would be a better gauge of how involved the citizenry is, how much they see their own government as legitimate. By that math, only 57 percent of voting-age adults cast ballots. Or, figured a little more generously, some 69 percent of those who had bothered to register before the election.

It had been theorized that the placement of Utah's adopted favorite son Mitt Romney atop the Republican ticket might boost turnout this year. But it was flat compared with 2008, and down from 2004. If anything, the widespread feeling that Mitt was a lock for Utah's six electoral votes might actually have depressed turnout. And that might have been a factor in, say, Republican challenger Mia Love's razor-thin loss to Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson.

It's not that Utah is among the states most actively engaged in voter suppression. It offers easy online registration, early voting and mail voting. Its voter ID requirements are not particularly onerous. It should join the ranks of states — including such politically similar jurisdictions as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — that allow eligible citizens to register to vote at the polls on Election Day.

But the real voter-suppression activity in Utah isn't found in registration or ballot rules. It happens in the way the state's super-majority Republican rulers exclude the vast majority from the process, through a Byzantine caucus and convention system for nominating candidates and a brazen habit of gerrymandering congressional and legislative districts to be wholly noncompetitive.

In such a climate, it's no surprise that Utah's true voter turnout rate is disappointing. Too many average citizens just don't see the point.