A voter casts his ballot in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election at a polling site in Sandy Springs, Ga., Tuesday, June 20, 2017. We would hope people feel self-compelled to join in the democratic process. Excuses for ignoring that duty are not compelling.

It’s clear after years of study the factor that most influences voter turnout during any given election is how competitive various races are, which foretells a hopeful return in Utah to healthy voter participation in the upcoming midterm election.

Polls show several key state and local races are highly competitive, including those involving four propositions brought to the ballot by citizen initiatives. It’s been disappointing to see Utah lag behind most states in turnout in recent years — a trend we hope to see reversed come Nov. 6.

The 2016 elections produced a weak turnout in Utah. The state ranked 39th in the country with about 58 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. There was a time Utah was consistently in the top tier of states in voter participation, but no longer. Political scientists suggest that’s a result of the advent of GOP dominance more than any general lessening of civic concern. The sheer number of important matters on an unusually thick midterm ballot this year should spur people to rise to their duty and take the time to reflect on the races and make their voices heard.

The country is seeing discord and divisiveness in the current social and political environment, which may on its own motivate people to go to the polls. There also has been a good deal of grassroots activism in the past year, spurred by concerns over a variety of social and policy matters. Polling data, however, do not show a strong link between citizen concern over any given issue or issues and voter turnout. A more powerful factor in getting people to vote is the existence of a close race in an election they find directly important to their condition in life.

Truth be told, virtually every race on the ballot has direct impact on Utahns’ public and personal lives.

1 comment on this story

We would hope people feel self-compelled to join in the democratic process. Excuses for ignoring that duty are not compelling. While many apathetic citizens fail to even register to vote, it’s concerning that a large percentage of registered voters still fail to fill out a ballot. With mail-in ballots now going out to most of the state, voters have the luxury of studying their ballot and taking a few days to research all the races and initiatives. We see no reason a prospective voter would choose to eschew an unburdensome opportunity to participate in an election that locally and nationally could determine the future direction of the state and country.

The coming midterms will serve as a significant bellwether on attitudes toward the nation’s health and the policies and positions of elected leaders on all levels of government. Everyone has a stake in that assessment. Because of the ease of voting by mail-in ballot, failing to vote is a conscious choice that’s difficult for any conscientious citizen to defend.