A new high-tech computer-generated system that matches voter issue preferences with candidates' stands on those issues may spur more eligible voters to cast ballots.
I VOTE, which stands for Informed Voting Options Through Education, may also encourage voters to make up their minds before they even enter the polling booth.Dr. James B. Mayfield, a University of Utah political science professor and a member of I VOTE Inc. - a group of professors that operates the service - said the service does not tell a person how or for whom to vote.
"We encourage voters to listen to the debates, to read the campaign literature, to follow the coverage of campaigns in the newspapers and on TV. I VOTE is merely a tool which helps a person make a more informed choice, as that voter looks at the candidates in terms of their position on the issues," said Mayfield, who heads the program in Utah.
Under the service, voters pay a fee of $9.95, which gives them a 15-page report comparing and contrasting federal, state and local candidates for public office. Individual voters fill out the same questionnaire that candidates were asked to fill out. Within two weeks the report comparing the candidates with the voters' positions will be mailed directly to the person requesting the information.
In a Deseret News interview Mayfield said the voting service evolved out of his and the other professors' concerns about declining voter turnout over the past 20 years. The other professors are Dr. Jerry Smith, associate professor of sociology, and Dr. Jerry Debenham, adjunct professor of educational administration.
"Whereas we used to consistently average in the 60s and 70s, in recent years that average has dropped to the 40s and 50s. In an attempt to understand what is happening, several in-depth surveys were conducted to determine reasons for voter apathy," Mayfield said.
He said there's a general tendency for voters to assume that there is not that much difference between the two major parties. Many believe, he said, that candidates are not much different and that regardless of who they vote for, citizens still get the same basic approaches to government. So they wonder why they should even bother to vote.
Also, Mayfield said many people can't seem to sort out needed information.
"They are getting bombarded with so much information, and there is no systematic way to sort out the wheat from the chaff. There is a lot of information on candidates, but it is presented in such a way that it is almost impossible for the typical voter to sort out what a candidate's position is or to see how one candidate's position may differ from another candidate."
Mayfield said I VOTE forces candidates to articulate their position on a wide variety of issues and stimulates voters to do more research and thinking.
For example, voters can receive a report on how they compare with about 20 different candidates, including those running for Senate, Congress, governor, attorney general, county commission and State Legislature.
Although the I VOTE report only covers local races along the Wasatch Front, voters outside that area can still obtain information on the presidential, gubernatorial and other statewide races.
Mayfield said the computer program has definite advantages for voters, "helping them to really sort through the campaign rhetoric and the image making that have become so much a part of the (election) process. To me it is destructive of our democratic process when we vote on the basis of image, on the basis of what people can project on TV."
While the program can assist anyone, Mayfield said it is really designed for the thousands of voters who have not voted in the past because they have not had enough information to make an informed choice.
"We strongly urge those kinds of voters to obtain the I VOTE packet," Mayfield said.
Mayfield stressed that all responses made by voters will be kept strictly confidential. Only one report will be printed per voter, and only the voter will see that report.
The pollster said he and the other professors have "bent over backwards to keep the questionnaire completely non-partisan and as objective as possible."
Some of the 42 issues on which voters can receive candidates' stands and priorities include the tax initiatives, education, year-round schools, university budget cuts, wilderness areas and welfare reform.
For more information, call 1-800-942-4000.