Political impacts of highly contested races often play themselves out as wheels within wheels turn one wheel slightly and other gears whirl by.
In Tuesday's election, many areas of Utah will likely see a larger voter turnout for their municipal and local ballot propositions because the private school voucher Referendum No. 1 is on the ballot.
But in a few areas such as Salt Lake City, where a competitive mayor's race is turning out the vote, vouchers may not be the driving force getting residents to the polls.
State Rep. Greg Hughes says one reason he and GOP legislative leaders decided to form their own political-issue committee (PIC) to push for pro-voucher votes is that they feared the Salt Lake mayor's race will naturally bring out extra anti-voucher voters.
Hughes, R-Draper, says leaders centered their "town meetings" in Utah and Washington counties where more residents favor vouchers because they fear that a big voter turnout in more liberal Salt Lake City would skew the voucher vote against the Legislature's plan to give between $500 to $3,000 per child in tuition breaks if the child goes to a qualified private school.
"In a general election (even-numbered) year, you might get 1 million voters in Utah," says Hughes. "But this off-year election, you might get only 250,000 or so voters." That's one reason that the GOP legislative leaders' PIC the Informed Voter Project sent out a huge 250,000-piece, pro-voucher mailer this weekend.
"We want to offset" the large, anti-voucher vote coming in Salt Lake City with a higher-than-average voter turnout in more conservative parts of the state areas where the local mayoral and council races may not be interesting enough to turn out voters on their own, says Hughes.
Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party and a longtime political-watcher in Utah, says that voter turnout Tuesday may be better than a normal off-year election, "but not significantly so."
Having vouchers on the ballot will probably increase voter participation. But polling over the past several months "has been very consistent" on the voucher issue, with residents not swinging one way or the other much, he says.
A new Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV released Friday night shows that vouchers are failing across the state, with 57 percent against them, 35 percent for them.
"Maybe we'll see 37 percent voter turnout, compared to 42 percent turnout for the (2006) elections. But remember, believe it or not, some voters are hearing about vouchers for the first time" in the last week of the campaign, says Taylor, and it remains to be seen if that issue will lead them to the polls.
Between the pro- and anti-voucher campaigns, about $8 million has been spent on Referendum No. 1, the latest PIC filings show.
One thing is clear: The voucher issue provides an added reason to vote Tuesday even if it is only a minor reason in some parts of the state.
In an October survey for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV, Dan Jones & Associates found that within Salt Lake City, 41 percent of registered voters said they are more likely to go to the polls because of vouchers. Across the state, a third of voters said they are more likely to turn out at the polls because the voucher question is on the ballot.
Although the voucher issue makes it more likely they will vote, they may have been voting anyway.
Local city and town elections are nonpartisan; that is, a candidate's political-party affiliation does not appear on the ballot next to his name, and political parties play no official role in nominating candidates.
But in big cities such as Salt Lake City, a candidate's partisan affiliation is played up in the campaigns and most voters know which party their mayor or mayoral candidate belongs to.
Jones' survey shows that Democrats are more motivated by the voucher issue to go to the polls than are Republicans, another blow for the pro-voucher movement, which trails in Jones' surveys.
In Salt Lake City's mayoral race, City Councilman Dave Buhler, a Republican, is further harmed by the fact that 45 percent of Democrats said the voucher issue on the ballot makes them more likely to vote, while 41 percent of Republicans said the same thing. And Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city, 34 percent to 25 percent, Jones found.So, while both Buhler and Utah House Democratic Minority Leader Ralph Becker, the other mayoral candidate, both oppose vouchers, the anti-voucher turnout in the city will likely help Becker more. Becker already leads in the mayor's race, 53 percent to 33 percent, the latest Jones survey shows.
E-mail: [email protected]