PARK CITY — So this is what democracy looks like: Two retired people, a husband and wife, sitting on stools in their kitchen wearing bright green T-shirts that shout out the question — Are You Registered To Vote?
A fair query, especially coming from them. Talk about practicing what you preach. Dick and Elsa Gary could be out on their deck lounging in rocking chairs admiring the Park City ski runs that sprawl out before their upscale home in Park Meadows. He’s 81, she’s 71. They ran a successful advertising business called the Gary Group for 40 years in Los Angeles. Three years ago they shut it all down, sold their place in Malibu, and relocated to these magnificent views. They don’t have to do anything if they don’t want to.
Instead, they set up a Get Out the Vote organization called Voterise (voterise.org) that accounted for nearly 20 percent of the new voter mail-in registrations recorded by the Utah lieutenant governor’s office in 2018.
Out of 74,000 new registrations, 13,250 of them came from Voterise. And that’s in addition to thousands more Voterise convinced to register online.
Why did Dick and Elsa do it? Why did they move to a new state, a place they’d only vacationed in previously, a place they hardly knew anybody, and get into the business of grassroots, nonpartisan, humanitarian politics?
Three main reasons, really.
One, because they could. After a successful career in advertising and marketing, they had sufficient resources to fund a nonprofit and start giving some of it back.
Two, because they’re patriots. Neither one has missed voting in an election – him since 1960; her since 1968 – in their lives. And ever since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 gave a green light to large financial contributions to campaigns, they’ve been concerned that big money threatens to turn our elections into auctions, making the office available to the highest bidder.
“We want it to go back to the people,” says Dick. “This might sound corny, but we really care about people and equality.”
Three, because it’s good for their health.
Says Elsa: “We have a cardiologist friend. He told us, ‘If you’re going to retire, you better have a plan.’ He said he’d seen too many people retire and then have a heart attack because they weren’t ready for it. Change of life can be so stressful.”
“So we don’t have time for heart attacks now,” chips in Dick. “We put the tired in retired.”
Their GOTV focus was on the millennials – young people between the ages of 18 and 29. They went here, there and everywhere to find them and get them to register. By the time the registration deadlines for mail (Oct. 9) and online (Oct. 30) had passed, Voterise wound up doing a total of 265 events, including stops at 60 high schools, as well as the state’s college campuses.
“In Utah in 2014, 8.1 percent of 18-29-year-olds voted,” says Elsa, who knows her stats. “That was 60 percent below the way-too-low national average of 19.9 percent.”
They hired a research group to find out the reasons for the meager turnout.
The vast majority of millennials said they had lost confidence in the system and didn’t think their vote would matter.
All this year – at the high schools and colleges, at marches and parades and rallies – Dick, Elsa and hundreds of Voterise volunteers addressed the apathy.
“Voting is the voice of the people; all the people should use their voice,” they preached.
“When you’re old enough to vote, you vote.”
“If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”
“No vote IS a vote.”4 comments on this story
Thousands responded to their efforts and registered.
After tomorrow, when all the balloting is concluded, they’ll be able to find out how many of them actually voted.
Enough, they hope, to move Utah out of the bottom of the national rankings.
“In 1980 Utah was fifth in voter turnout,” Elsa says. “In 2016 it was 39th.”
Says Dick: “We just feel Utah is a lot better than 39th.”
Thanks to a couple of transplanted Californians who retired and moved here three years ago, in 2018 it just might be.