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Improving Voter Turnout, One Utahn at a Time

GRAPHIC: Vote button
GRAPHIC: Vote button
September 24, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - In Utah, low voter turnout has been a stubborn problem - and was even the focus of a Governor's Commission a few years ago. So, this Tuesday - National Voter Registration Day - is one more effort to get people excited about being civic-minded.

At the Alliance for a Better Utah, executive director Maryann Martindale acknowledges the challenge of getting people to register and vote in any state where one political party has dominated the action for so long that no one is convinced their vote is needed - to either clinch a win or change it. However, she tells people a voter still plays an important role, even if his or her candidate is not the one who prevails.

"You're still sending a message to the one who does win: 'There's X number of people in your district who aren't happy with what it is you're doing or what your platform is. And if you want to continue to represent them, it would probably be a good idea to start broadening that view and understanding what it is your constituents are after.'"

She also points out that it sometimes takes only a handful of votes to decide the winner in some city, county and judicial races. Of the state's eligible voters, Martindale says, only about half cast ballots in Utah.

"It's unfortunate that we take it for granted, because there are people who die for the right to vote - still, today. There are countries where people can't vote. There are countries where women still can't vote; where ethnic minorities can't vote. It hasn't been that long ago in this country when blacks were kept from voting, when women were kept from voting."

Utah's ethnic population now represents about one in five residents, and the state Multicultural Affairs office wants to be sure those voices are heard on Election Day. Its office at 300 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City, will be open on National Voter Registration Day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for drop-in registration. Director Claudia Nakano says they will ask to see identification and confirm that the basic residence requirements are met.

"Individuals must be at least 18 years old, on or before Nov. 6, 2012. They must be a citizen of the United States, and must be a resident of Utah for at least 30 days before November 6th of this year."

The Voter Registration Day event is for any new Utah voter or for those who need to update their registration information. You can also register online at www.vote.utah.gov or in person at your County Clerk's office.

The Alliance has produced new videos to explain the voter registration process in English and Spanish. They're online at betterutah.org. The League of Women Voters also has information on its website, lwvutah.org. More information is available at nationalvoterregistrationday.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT