With one exception, voter turnout in Tuesday night's primary election ranged from meager to dismal. That was not unexpected, given the lack of any statewide races and the general absence of high-profile confrontations. For most Utahns, the election was something they mostly ignored.
The one race that excited interest at the ballot box was a Republican primary to see who would replace retiring Sen. Ivan Matheson, R-Cedar City, in the Legislature. It was more like a final election because the winner has no Democratic challenger in the November voting.In that contest, former long-time senator Dixie L. Leavitt won over Jim Eardley, a St. George businessman. Interest was so high that Iron County had a 63 percent voter turnout.
The other races around the state involved a Democratic run-off in the 3rd Congressional District, a number of legislative primaries for both parties, county commission races, and school board contests.
Robert W. Stringham defeated Craig S. Oliver in the Democratic primary for the right to face Rep. Howard Nielson in the 3rd District. Nielson is considered a favorite in the traditionally Republican district.
Yet the primary election results were not without significance. In most cases, the incumbents won, which is normally no surprise. But it provides a clue to voter feelings about several smoldering issues.
For example, criticism of incumbent legislators has been inherent in the tax revolt brought on by last year's large tax increase. But despite the apparent popularity of the tax limitation initiatives on the November ballot - at least as shown by opinion polls - that did not translate into voting incumbent legislators out of office.
Of nine primary races involving incumbents in the Utah House of Representatives, seven came out winners. And one of the losers, Rep. Ray Schmutz, R-St. George, was an outspoken critic of the tax increase.
At least eight of the 17 primary races featured head-to-head clashes between tax limitation proponents and foes of the tax initiatives. In seven of the eight cases, the tax limitation foes won. A school board candidate in Salt Lake City who openly supported the tax initiatives finished with a mere 4 percent of the vote.
It would be going too far to assume that means the tax limitation proposals themselves are in deep trouble, but it does amount to a serious setback for the tax protesters.
Other races with emotional overtones involved school board seats in the Salt Lake City School District, where the closing of South High School and the redrawing of high school boundaries had touched off a bitter fight earlier this year. The board repeatedly voted 4-3 on touchy issues and many patrons along the east bench had vowed to change that balance in this election.
However, when the smoke cleared Tuesday night, incumbent and board president F. Keith Stepan, who voted with the majority for the controversial boundary changes, was an easy winner over four challengers. But board vice president Stephen G. Boyden, who consistently voted with the minority on the boundary issues, also won his primary challenge.
Even with the background of the school boundary issue, voter turnout was light. It's an indication that passions raised in the school boundary fight have begun to subside.
The lack of voter response generally was due to the lack of major races. But the general election in November - with the presidential race, major statewide races, and the tax initiatives - still promises to be one of the mostly heavily involved elections in many years.
It should be so because the matters at stake are vital.