It didn't take long after Mitt Romney's 8-vote margin of victory in Iowa this week for pundits to begin positing one of the chief lessons of the day — every vote counts.
While there is truth to that — each of the record 123,000 or so Republican voters who took part in the caucuses had an inordinately important role to play because of the closeness of the race — the unstated corollary is misguided. It could best be stated as, "therefore, you need to vote."
No, you need to vote because it is your civic duty; the rent you pay for enjoying the blessings of liberty and freedom. That has no relation to the eventual margin of victory.
Not every race is as close as Tuesday's Iowa caucuses. Eight votes is an almost impossibly tight margin from such a large turnout. It may be the closest primary or caucus in a presidential party race in U.S. history. Most elections are decided by wider margins. Many are landslides. Still, it is your duty to vote. You cast a ballot not necessarily to decide an election but to express your informed preference as a franchised citizen.
Utahns didn't used to have need to be told such things. However, today they could learn much from Iowans. Voter turnout in the Beehive state has fallen off a cliff over the last half century. There are many ways to measure this. Perhaps the best is by the percentage of eligible voters — that is, people who are of voting age, whether or not they have registered. By this standard, 78.5 percent voted in 1964, a landslide presidential election in which Utah went with most of the nation and chose Lyndon B. Johnson. In 2008, a much tighter presidential race that featured no incumbent and generated excitement nationwide, only 50.5 percent of eligible Utahns voted. That was 48th out of the 50 states.
In 2010, a year that featured a governor's race and a chance to select a new U.S. senator, only about one-third of eligible people showed up. Measured against the total of Utahns who actually bothered to register, the turnout was 51.6 percent, second worst in the nation.
The current race for the Republican nomination changes from state to state. Iowa has its own unique demography; its own issues and concerns. Utah is unique in its concerns, as well, and those can be expressed best through an engaged electorate.
The Iowa example is pertinent because Utahns are facing another important election year. The state won't hold its presidential primary until June 26, long after all other states have done so. However, that primary, and the subsequent general election in November, will decide many important local, state and national races that affect everything from zoning to tax rates.
Every vote does indeed count. They all count as individual choices that, added together, equal a vibrant and involved democracy capable of holding elected officials accountable for their performance. Now is the time to begin preparing for the responsibility to cast a ballot.