Low voter turnout expected for municipal elections

Published: Monday, Nov. 7 2011 5:19 p.m. MST

Malinda Bills, left, and Barbara Grundvig set up a voting machine at Sandy Elementary School in Sandy, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns have a chance Tuesday to cast their ballots for the elected officials whose decisions most directly impact their lives.

Most, however, won't bother.

Based on voter turnouts from past years, elections officials estimate less than 20 percent of registered voters will go to the polls to help pick a new mayor or decide who represents them on their city or town councils.

"On a day-to-day basis, the folks you vote for in a municipal office have much more influence on you than the national races," said Mark Thomas, state elections director. "There's been plenty of close races on the municipal level. It can come down to just a few votes."

But municipal elections are a "tough sell," particularly in odd-numbered years, when there are no presidential, gubernatorial or even state senate races to attract voters, said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"It's even tougher this time because there is so much focus on the (2012) presidential (race) and international issues. Local issues really aren't at the fore," Jowers said.

Because municipal elections are administered by the cities and towns themselves or contracted with county elections offices, statewide voter turnout for those races are not tracked.

But in cities that have contracted with Salt Lake County over the past dozen years, municipal elections in odd years have averaged 26.7 percent voter turnout. That number is inflated some by the 39.2 percent turnout in the 2007 general election, when Ralph Becker was elected to succeed Rocky Anderson as Salt Lake City mayor.

"Sometimes (voter turnout) can be saved by a marquee local election, like Salt Lake City mayor," Jowers said. "This year, we don't even have a race there so it makes it really tough to focus."

Becker is up for re-election, but no serious challenger emerged in the race. Instead, 79-year-old political newcomer J. Allen Kimball threw his hat into the ring, he said, because nobody else did.

"It is ironic there's less interest (in municipal elections) because it's the place a citizen can have the most impact," Jowers said. "Because there are fewer people voting, your vote will probably matter to the outcome. And these are the people who most directly impact your day-to-day life."

Those who do make the effort to vote in municipal elections, however, generally are informed voters, he said.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in most Utah cities and towns. No elections will be held in 38 municipalities, thanks to a new state law that allows cities and towns to cancel elections where all candidates are running unopposed.

For sample ballots and a complete list of polling locations, visit the state elections website at vote.utah.gov.

Contributing: Richard Piatt

Salt Lake County voter turnout

2010 — 54.3 percent

2009 — 19.5 percent

2008 — 71 percent

2007 — 39.2 percent

2006 — 46.2 percent

2005 — 21.4 percent

2004 — 76.3 percent

2003 — 27.6 percent

2002 — 51.9 percent

2001 — Not available

2000 — 70.3 percent

1999 — 25.6 percent

NOTE: Percentages only include municipalities that contracted with Salt Lake County to conduct elections. Cities and towns participating varied from year to year.

Source: Salt Lake County Clerk's Office

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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