SALT LAKE CITY — More Utahns voted in the 2016 election than when Republican Mitt Romney ran four years earlier, but the Beehive State still has among the lowest rates of voters turning out nationwide.
Many Utah residents may skip the polls on Election Day because they feel their votes don't matter, according to the Utah Foundation, which released an analysis of Utah voter data and national nonprofit information Tuesday. In 2016, more than 2-in-3 general election races ended in a margin of more than 30 percent, the foundation points out.
"Most races have been uncompetitive," said Shawn Teigen, vice president and research director for the organization.
In November, 58 percent of Utah voters cast votes in the presidential election — a lower turnout than all but 11 other states, Teigen and his colleagues wrote in the new brief. It's more than in the previous two elections, but not as high as the 60 percent in 2004.
That could change under a proposal from a group called Better Boundaries, Teigen said. The group is seeking to gather enough signatures to land its initiative on the 2018 ballot. The measure would set up an independent commission to redraw voting districts using a method the group says would remain impartial. That's instead of allowing lawmakers to choose new boundaries. It could up the competition in races, the report says, and in turn bolster voter turnout.
Utah's caucus-convention system also may hinder turnout, Teigen said. Under the system, party delegates choose candidates. The candidates can bypass primary elections if they receive enough votes.
It means the candidates are chosen by a smaller, less moderate group, precluding voters in the wider general election from getting involved from the beginning, Teigen said, and potentially dissuading some from voting at all.
"There's a cost. If you want to participate in primaries, there are bigger hurdles than sending in a mail-in ballot," Teigen said.
Another ballot intiative seeks to have Utah ditch that system. Count My Vote, the group behind the proposal, is gathering signatures to get its measure on the ballot.5 comments on this story
An earlier push from the group resulted in a compromise with the Utah Legislature that allowed candidates who gather enough signatures to bypass the caucus system. It's the path that Republican moderate Provo Mayor John Curtis took to enter the congressional race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah's 3rd District. Curtis won the primary election in August.
In the meantime, Teigen's group plans to study the relationship between low voter turnout and one-party dominance in states across the country, he said.
"It'd be interesting to know if there is some silver bullet" to raising turnout and heightening Utahns' sense of civic duty, he said, "or if this is some longer cyclical trend."