Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, visiting UVSC, encourages young adults to vote in community elections.

OREM — Who cares about local elections?

You should. So says Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, the state's chief elections officer

"Sometimes we think it's so important who we elect to the governor's office, yet we neglect the importance of . . . our town mayors and council people," Herbert said.

"There's a bigger voter turnout on even years because usually there's a statewide election . . . and somehow in our minds we think it's more important, but it's not. Local government people are the heart and soul of our democratic republic."

The day-to-day issues of a city — paying for police and fire stations and providing water and electrical services — are decided by the mayor and the city council. Those elected officials also deal with taxes, zoning and development.

Do you care yet?

"Local government really is where most people receive their government services," Herbert said. "Local government people pick up your garbage, fix potholes and make sure the roads you drive on every day are maintained."

Herbert said the State Elections Office tries to promote civic awareness and increase voter turnout by helping residents see how crucial these elected positions are. He also travels to schools, encouraging college and high school students to vote.

Since his 21st birthday, Herbert said, he has never missed an election.

Occasionally, however, with busy schedules, the November elections simply fall off the must-do radar. "I think people generally think it's important to vote, but it's, 'Gosh, was that today? I forgot,' " Herbert said. "There is a need to have a reminder."

Reminders during election season, though, seem to be on every surface that doesn't move. They are plastered on lawns and buildings — colorful signs of candidates trying to gain name recognition. And there also are myriad Web sites and "meet the candidate nights" to help encourage public involvement.

And no matter how big or small the city — or how heated the campaign — becoming educated and showing support for the political process is what's important, say civic leaders and government officials.

"If you care about the impact government has in your lives, you'll understand how important it is to go out and vote for mayors and city council," Herbert said.

The Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce is spreading the word, sending almost 900 e-mails to local businesses with information about candidates and reminders to vote.

"Local mayors and city council members probably have a bigger impact on you as a local citizen than the president of the United States does," said Steve Densley, chamber president.

Densley believes that for cities to function properly, the business community must be aware of — and active in — the political realm.

"From a business perspective, we have a saying that, 'If you're in business, you're in politics,' " he said. "You really need to be involved with those making decisions in your behalf."

But it's not just the business world that needs to pay attention to local elections. All residents use public utilities and drive city roads. Most Utahns also have children or other family members who have attended public schools or colleges.

"It's important that people know who is making the decisions," said Sharon Walkington, one of the leaders of League of Women Voters of Salt Lake. "The local elections are important to our everyday lifestyle — where we live and how we live."

Although the bigger, more competitive races usually generate more publicity, that doesn't mean voters should ignore the smaller races, Walkington said.

In the primary election in October, Utah County had dismal voter turnout numbers, with the two largest cities, Provo and Orem, logging 7 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively. The city with the most active voters: Genola with 47 percent.

Why aren't people voting? There are a handful of reasons, says Utah Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

There's the all-is-well syndrome that leaves people thinking that because things are going well, they don't need to get involved. Or maybe it's apathy from people who think their vote doesn't matter. Bramble also questioned if the media are doing enough to focus on the local issues and candidates.

But becoming informed isn't always easy.

"It takes an effort to be a responsible citizen," Bramble said. Individuals need to research the issues and decide which candidates would best fit the positions.

And if there's a collective effort coming from schools, parents and peers, children will develop a greater understanding of the governmental process, teens will see the importance of voting and older residents will be reminded of their civic duty.

Then, when residents cast their votes, they will understand that their one voice really can make a difference, Bramble said.

"We're celebrating Rosa Parks and her contribution to the American culture, society," he said. "She was one voice, one person and a very humble unassuming woman at that, and she changed history in a very positive way. That's a message that our kids have got to hear."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com