Thanks to Jason Chaffetz, we now have a congressional representative elected by 35 percent of the registered voters, with 65 percent not bothering to make a choice.
The general election in which Republican John Curtis defeated Democrat Kathie Allen and United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett actually had a lower turnout than the GOP primary, which had 40 percent turnout among Republicans.
It was a special election for Congress, of course, which was piggybacked onto nonpartisan municipal races already scheduled in this off year, typically attracting lower turnout than the years featuring congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial races, as well as state legislative contests.
That was made necessary by Chaffetz decision to resign from his 3rd District seat to spend more time with his family just a few months after he won his fifth term last November and had declared during that campaign how excited he was to spend the next two years having hearings into Hillary Clinton’s potential scandals.
Those plans went awry when Clinton lost the presidential chase and Chaffetz was in a position, as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of having to investigate fellow Republican Donald Trump.
Suddenly, family became a priority.
And that’s how we got a congressman selected by a relatively small number of voters. We might as well have gone back to the old convention system in which limited groups of Republican delegates would pick our next congressman or congresswoman since the GOP candidate is a cinch to win the general election in Utah.
The Beehive State consistently has among the lowest voter turnout in the nation, partly because the majority’s knee-jerk Republican voting habits leave many with a “so-what” attitude and prompting them to stay home on Election Day.
But 35 percent choosing a congressional representative is dismal.
Not only did Chaffetz’s decision to run, win and resign give us a representative in Washington chosen by barely a third of the electorate, but it also cost the counties in the 3rd District some cash they could have been spent on other things.
Even though the special election was held in conjunction with municipal races, plenty of areas with no local contests had to prepare ballots for those voting precincts.
In Salt Lake County alone, the special congressional election cost well over $100,000, according to longtime County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.
So how do Utahns feel about Chaffetz putting an extra burden on voters and county coffers?
A recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll puts him as the early front-runner for governor in 2020.
Games people play • Special elections in off years can be used to get unpopular initiatives passed by small factions of special interests due.
Take the city of Millcreek, for example.
The vast majority of its residents did not want to live in an incorporated city, seeming content to be governed by Salt Lake County as an unincorporated area.
That was the case in 2012, at least, when Millcreek incorporation was on the ballot in a presidential year that featured Utah favorite Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate and led to a heavier voter turnout in the Beehive State.
In the Millcreek area, nearly 29,000 voters turned out, representing 89 percent of the registered voters.
They rejected incorporation, 16,805 to 11,952, or 58 percent to 42 percent.
Then, in the off year of 2015, incorporation backers revived the issue when hardly anything else was on the ballot. In that election, Millcreek voters had a choice: township or city. This time, incorporation prevailed, 66 percent to 34 percent. But only 15,589 bothered to cast ballots — a little more than half the number of voters who rejected incorporation three years earlier. The tally was 10,364 to 5,225.
At least the special election gimmick is a little more controlled than it used to be.
Several years ago, the Legislature passed a law that required special off-year elections be held on a regular primary or general election day. Previously, there were four dates that could be chosen from — one even in February when most folks are more worried about Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow than some obscure ballot initiative.