In the 1984 election, just over half of voting-age Americans helped choose a U.S. president. In Utah, it wasn't much better, with only 60.5 percent of the voting-age population casting ballots. Those statistics pale when matched with other democracies in the world.
For example, recent election results show 85.9 percent of those eligible in France voted, 90.7 percent of Swedes cast ballots and 87.8 percent of West Germans voted.Part of the voter apathy problem in the U.S. is complicated voter registration.
In Utah, people have to make an extra effort to register to vote. They must travel to the local county clerk's office or go to a local registrar's home. Those facts alone could keep shut-ins, those in rural areas, and those without transportation from registering. Voter information packets, distributed through Utah newspapers, don't get to those who don't subscribe to newspapers. The poor and less educated are hurt most by the present system.
Compare that with other nations that have institutionalized voter registration. They have government-initiated programs that often provide registration forms and information door-to-door. Some countries, like Belgium and Australia, even require people to vote, imposing fines if they do not.
While mandating people to vote may go too far, these nations' idea that voting is a duty rather than a right ought to be adopted.
A simple step in increasing the number of registered voters would be to combine registration with the mainstream of other government activities. For example, while people wait in line to register their car, get a driver's license or pick up a welfare check, they could be given a voter registration form to fill out. The state should also examine an election day registration system used in other states. If such a system could be implemented without risk of fraud, it would go a long way to increase voter participation.
Under the state's current system, if residents want to vote Nov. 8, but have not registered, they must now go to the homes of district registrars on Nov. 1-3. County clerks stopped registering voters Oct. 18.
The outcomes of this election, in particular, will leave a far-reaching imprint on the state. Tax limitation initiatives, congressional races, school board elections, election of officials who will, among other things, carve up Utah into new election districts after the 1990 Census, and a divisive governor's race will all shape the Utah of the next century.