Susan R. Madsen: Use your vote. Use your voice.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Depicting women gaining the right to vote in the Utah Territory in 1870, the Seraph Young Votes mural is seen above the House Chamber at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

Independence Day is traditionally a time for patriotic sentiments, large family gatherings, and fireworks. But with the nation in turmoil over issues of social justice (not to mention a resurgence of COVID-19), many of us may be feeling less than celebratory.

But whatever your opinions on protests and masks (and people have strong opinions), I want to remind Utahns that as Americans they have a unique power that allows our voices to be counted: the vote.

In June, the number of registered voters in our state has surged because of the gubernatorial primaries. And across the country organizations like Mormon Women for Ethical Government are launching campaigns to protect the vote. Thankfully, Utah is one of five states that conducts elections with the vote-by-mail system. What once seemed like a nice convenience is now a game changer in an era where people may feel they have to choose between their health and safety and their civic duty.

And as we know with from the fabulous Better Days 2020 campaign, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Utah women being the first to cast a ballot, marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, “protecting voting rights of women and men of racial minorities.” And Utah women are now using that right better than most.

Our research at the Utah Women & Leadership Project found that in 2018 Utah women ranked 11th nationally for voter turnout (up from 51st in the nation in 2006).

But we can do better. In 2016, the most recent presidential election, 93.9% of Utah residents were eligible to vote, but just 71% of these citizens were registered and only 62.7% actually voted. Those statistics might make our sister suffragists cry.

But even before Seraph Young cast that vote in 1870 (Utah’s first female voter), America was obsessed with voting and it wasn’t even a nation. In 1607, one of the first orders of business for the Jamestown colonists was to vote on who would be their council president. And we have been demanding the expansion of voter rights ever since. Nearly one-third of our constitutional amendments focus on voting rights. Free and fair elections are the hallmark of democracy.

Making sure you are registered to vote and informed on the issues may be the most patriot thing you could ever do. So perhaps take this July 4 to ponder on the gift you have as a citizen and a Utahn to be able to weigh in on matters local and national from the comfort of your kitchen table.

Now more than ever it’s vital that we use this ability to be heard (women and men), to choose who to best represent us and to align ourselves with the issues that we value. This is how we change our city, state, country, and the world: one voice, one vote at a time.

Susan R. Madsen

Susan R. Madsen, Ed.D., is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.