Despite the money politicians spend courting Utahns and the constant pleas by ecclesiastical leaders to show good citizenship by voting, Utah now has the nation's worst voting participation rates.
That's according to a study released this week by the U.S. Census about the 2006 general election. As part of its regular massive surveying, the bureau asked Americans after the election two years ago if they voted and why to help show differences among groups and likely reasons for their actions.
Utah came in last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Some 36.7 percent of Utahns age 18 and older about one of three reported voting in that election. Nationally, the average was 47.8 percent, about a third higher than in Utah. Minnesota had the highest turnout at 65.4 percent, almost double Utah's rate.
Why so low in Utah? Brigham Young University political science professor Kelly Patterson has some ideas.
"It (the 2006 election) was a very nondramatic, mid-term election where none of the races in the three congressional districts was competitive, and the statewide senate race wasn't competitive. Campaigns were not spending a lot of time motivating voters to register and get out to vote like we normally see with the most competitive races," he said.
Perhaps another factor, he said, is that Utah has more young people than most states, "and voter registration rates and voting are highly correlated with age" with young people tending to vote less than older folk.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office has made so many efforts to make voting and registration easy that, "If people haven't voted, it's not because they do not know how. It's because they have chosen not to."
For example, she says her office sends postcards to every home where a registered voter lives telling them where to vote and where early voting is available. She has registration forms available in grocery stores and post offices. She goes to high schools and senior centers to encourage registration and even pushes it at home shows and garden expos.
Also, her office allows people to permanently request on her Web site that their ballot always be mailed so they need not worry about traveling to polls or standing in lines.
The Census shows that huge numbers of Utahns do not bother to register to vote.
It said Utah has the third-lowest reported registration rate among the states 56.8 percent of adult citizens. Nationally, the average is 67.6 percent, about a fifth higher than in Utah.
Swensen says Utah law changes have made it a bit more difficult to register in recent years. She said the Legislature eliminated "satellite registration" that had been available in neighborhoods for a couple of days about a week before an election. It also moved what had been a deadline for by-mail registration back from 20 days to 30 days before an election. Voters can register in person up to 15 days before an election, but now must go to a county clerk's office to do so.
"I personally would like to see election-day registration" at the polls with proof of residency, as is available in many states, she said. "A lot of people just don't think about elections 30 days in advance (when mail deadlines hit), so later registration would help." She adds that bills proposing same-day registration have not gone far in the Legislature.
Census data show little difference in voting rates among different racial groups or genders in Utah all are low.
It said 36.8 percent of Utah adult women reported voting, essentially the same as the 36.6 percent of males who said they did. It said 38.5 percent of Utah whites reported voting, as did 29.8 percent of Hispanic citizens. Sampling rates for other minorities were too low to be considered statistically reliable.
Data breakouts for other Utah groups were not available in data released this week. But data for all Americans show some interesting trends nationally.
For example, older Americans tend to vote more than young adults. Those who are married tend to vote more than those who are not. And those with higher incomes tend to vote more.
The Census found that among nonvoters nationally, 27 percent said they skipped voting because they were too busy or had conflicting work or school schedules. About 12 percent said were not interested or did not think their vote would make a difference. Another 12 percent said they were ill. And 11 percent said they were out of town.
Other reported reasons for not voting included dislike of the candidates or issues, 7 percent; forgetting to vote, 6 percent; confusion over registration procedures, 4 percent; and inconvenient polling places, 3 percent.The Census also asked those who had not registered why they did not. It said 48 percent said they were not interested in the election or were not involved in politics; 14 percent said they missed deadlines; 7 percent said they did not know how to register; 5 percent did not meet residency requirements; and 3 percent said their vote would not make a difference.
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