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In our opinion: Voting is a way of exercising patriotism

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 7:15 p.m. MDT

Voters cast their votes through absentee ballots for the Nov. 6th election at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.  (Associated Press) Voters cast their votes through absentee ballots for the Nov. 6th election at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. (Associated Press)

Voter turnout in Utah has been dismally low in recent elections, raising concerns about a growing tide of apathy. By all indications, the tide has turned.

County clerks are reporting a record number of people have cast early ballots, and there is a substantial increase in the number of people registered to vote. This is a welcome revival of the recognition that individual citizens have an important role and responsibility in the affairs of the nation and local communities.

The Salt Lake County clerk's office reports a record 539,000 people have so far registered to vote, including more than 100,000 who had not voted in at least four years. That number alone demonstrates that many people believe the elections of 2012 represent a historic turning point.

And significantly, the balloting apparatus in Utah has been adjusted to allow for easier and earlier voting, by mail or in designated early voting locations. There are 21 early voting stations in Salt Lake County alone, and officials expect a steady stream of people eager to exercise their franchise of citizenship.

A sheet of A sheet of "I voted" stickers waits for voters who have finished casting their ballots as poll workers check identification and sign in voters during the first day of early voting at the Washington County Administration Building in St. George, Utah Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Associated Press)

This is nothing but good news. Government can only be responsive to its citizens if its citizens make it clear by their collective voice which policies, platforms and representatives they prefer.

Some people choose to excuse themselves from the process, complaining their vote doesn't really matter, or that voting is inconvenient, or that they simply don't pay attention to candidates or issues.

This year, it is evident more people are paying attention. Whether it is through economic, social or foreign policy, people have seen in recent years that the decisions of elected representatives can have an impact on their every day lives.

Those who say their vote doesn't matter are missing a larger principle. By casting a ballot, you place yourself on the record, formally taking a position and supporting a specific direction. Those who choose to stay home certainly maintain the right to voice opinions and take sides, but their positions are not backed up by the credibility of taking the time to formally commit them to the electoral record.

Voting is a validation of citizenship and a practical exercise of patriotism. And indeed, there are elections every year that are so close that turnout really can make all the difference.

For those who say voting is a time-consuming hassle, state and county elections officials have worked to make it much more convenient by opening early voting locations and creating a vote-by-mail system that is growing in popularity. In Utah County, for example, the rate of early balloting is expected to more than double over the last general election. A nice side benefit of early voting is that polling places will be less crowded on Nov. 6.

We hope, however, the crowds are substantial, and that turnout returns to the levels of the 1960s and '70s, when Utah was at the top of the list of states with the highest percentage of eligible voters who showed up at the polls. We encourage you to join with those who will take the time to participate in a system that stands to fail if they don't.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company