Lisa R. Halverson: Make sure you are registered to vote and informed on the issues

Being a registered and informed voter is the most patriotic thing you can do.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Salt Lake Tribune) Sherrie Swensen speaks to high school students as they fill out voter registration forms in 2010.

“I’ve just about used up all my cuss words.” And Great-Grandma Georgia wasn’t done.

“I was 28 before you darn men decided we women were smart enough to vote. I’m 81 years old,” Georgia noted, “and I’ve been voting ever since.”

But in 1968, when she was wheelchair-bound and living in a nursing home, her absentee ballot did not arrive. After being told by the elections office that it was too late to have one sent, in frustration Georgia called the local newspaper.

Fortunately, a sympathetic reporter arranged a cab to take her to the polls, enabling her to vote in what would be her last election. While waiting to vote she maintained a running (and colorful) commentary of the candidates and issues, from garbage levy to dog control to presidential politics.

Once her ballot was cast, Georgia proclaimed, “I made up my mind that if there was any way for me to vote, by George, I was going to vote.”

Was she glad she voted, the reporter asked?

“You’re damn tootin’ I am!”

Georgia was attentive to her right to vote. She checked her registration status and watched for her absentee ballot.

But, according to the most recent U.S. Census, as many as one in four eligible Americans are not even registered to vote. In Utah, the only slightly better number of about one in five eligible residents are not registered. But that still leaves half a million eligible Utahns who are unregistered to vote.

They may not understand the process. They may have missed a deadline. Regardless, unless their registration is received by 5 p.m. on October 28, 2022, they won’t be receiving their ballot in the mail in October. (They may still register in person at the polls even on Election Day.)

National Voter Registration Day, observed on September 20, is a nonpartisan civic holiday dedicated to getting eligible Americans registered to vote. As such it is a time when we can set aside differences, enjoy the rights and opportunities we share as Americans, and celebrate our democracy.

The day is endorsed by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and the National Association of Election Officials (The Election Center).

Though she died more than 50 years ago, I’m pretty sure it would be endorsed by Great-Grandma Georgia as well.

What can you do to support voter registration and thus our “American experiment”? Do you know any newly eligible 18-year-olds who could use help to get registered? Can you think of someone who recently moved to Utah and may not have registered in their new state? Have you checked your own registration? Fortunately, Utah hasn’t taken draconian measures to purge inactive voters (11% of Utahns who are registered), as some states have. But it’s wise to check your registration regardless.

Once registered, our civic duty isn’t complete. As Moisés Naím, distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has recently stated, “Citizens need to start thinking that democracy is not cheap in terms of real time and commitment and engagement. Voting every four years may not be enough. They need to strengthen their ability to detect charlatans and lies and populist behaviors. Citizens need to be more citizens and just less of the dwellers of a country.”

As engaged citizens, we can ask ourselves these questions:

Are we well-informed voters, who take time to study issues as we fill in our mail-in ballots?

Are we nuanced voters, who recognize that society is complex and neither party has all the answers?

Are we principled voters, who vote with the Golden Rule in mind?

As Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project and endowed professor of leadership at Utah State University has written, “Making sure you are registered to vote and informed on the issues may be the most patriotic thing you could ever do.”

I can almost hear great-grandma’s affirmation: “Damn tootin’” it is!

Lisa Halverson

Lisa R. Halverson is a civics education fellow at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies.