In our opinion: Utah's political turnout must be a continuing trend

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Voters in Herriman line up to cast their votes Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at Butterfield Elementary School.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The good news Tuesday was that Utah voters appeared to reverse the trend of declining participation, turning out in large numbers. Early estimates were of 70 percent or more registered voters casting ballots.

That continues a trend evident in party caucus turnout earlier this year, in which both major parties benefitted from participation rates that far exceeded that of recent years. It is, we hope, the beginning of a new trend in Beehive State democracy.

The large turnout Tuesday made it difficult to determine a winner in the hotly contested fourth congressional race between incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love. At press time, the outcome was not known.

In Salt Lake County, Democrat Ben McAdams appeared to have defeated Republican Mark Crockett for the office of county mayor, replacing outgoing Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon.

That was a ray of sunshine for Utah Democrats in what otherwise was another big election for Republicans in the state. It continued, and even strengthened, a domination that has lasted many years, with the GOP enjoying strong majorities in the Legislature.

That sort of domination comes with a great responsibility for solid leadership. The good news is that party caucus participation earlier this year was strong and that this resulted in a more moderate and representative slate of candidates.

Utahns need to continue that level of participation in order to keep party leaders accountable and representative of the public's needs. A two-party system has a built-in check against abuses of power. When one party dominates, an engaged electorate has to provide a large measure of that watchdog role.

The state has gained at least one new congressional representative. We congratulate Chris Stewart for winning in the state's second district, having defeated Jay Seegmiller. An Air Force pilot, small-business owner and author, Stewart will make himself better known to the state in the months ahead as he assumes office.

Gov. Gary Herbert solidified his place as a successful state leader, winning his first four-year term. He won a two-year term in 2010, an election necessitated because he came to office with the resignation of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.

Republicans also won statewide races for attorney general and auditor, as well as the first, second and third congressional districts.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch won re-election, continuing an impressive string of victories that began in 1976. He, too, was helped by a large caucus turnout, in which more moderate Republicans overwhelmed the more radical tea party element.

Utahns, in other words, are generally happy with their state leaders. But they also flexed muscles that haven't been used in years, and we hope that level of participation continues to grow.

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