According to the Census Bureau, the number of people who are eligible to vote and have actually voted fluctuated between 49 percent and 58 percent in the last 30 years. That number drops to between 30 percent and 40 percent during mid-term elections. Percentages continue to drop at the local level. The number of eligible voters participating in primary elections or caucuses, when the field of candidates is the most diverse, is the lowest percentage.
Assuming a student is an active voter, there remain many barriers to voting, such as students updating the state’s voter registration files after a recent change of address, or if a student will be in town in time to get a vote-by-mail ballot postmarked by the deadline. The ballot is confusingly worded and the student isn’t sure if voting yes for Proposition XYZ means the city upgrades the sewer system or not. State-level judicial matters don’t get much attention in the media and are hard to research, so the student has no idea how to vote on which judges to retain.
While the ballot only presents a few names for county commissioner, students can use search apps to research candidates.
Setting aside the issues of voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, and matters of translation and access, the disenfranchising scenarios laid out above are far too common. Is the US citizenry the well-informed electorate supposed? Does the open, transparent, participatory democracy that is held up as a model for the rest of the world exist?
It’s little wonder that many UVU students choose not to participate in politics. Lack of knowledge, expertise, or access are a serious block. But it is disheartening to see policy after policy at the federal, state, county, and municipal level fail to recognize the evidence-based common sense that the majority of US citizens agree on. From continuing failed abstinence-only sex education policies, to the denial of the human influence on climate change, to wasteful spending on xenophobic wall building—political representation does not reflect popular sentiment.
But that can change. Starting by registering to vote and self-education. Actively participating caucuses, and conventions, and primaries, and general elections. It continues with writing letters to representatives. It gains traction by with rallies, strikes, and boycotts. Becoming a delegate or working for a campaign is great, or even running for office. Also, just voting.
Tomorrow Nov. 7 is Election Day. Nearly every city in Utah County is holding elections for mayor, city council members, or both. Search online for “city name + election information” to learn about candidates and voting locations. Residents of Congressional District 3 will elect a new congress person to replace Jason Chaffetz, who quit his term early to work for Fox News.
If a student isn’t registered, that’s OK. Instead of voting on Election Day, use the day to register at vote.utah.gov.