Voting in Utah: Analyzing Current Practices and Future Options for Utah Voters

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Voter registration and participation has been on the decline in Utah in the past several decades. Although some aspects of Utah’s political arena such as the number of competitive races and the caucus-convention system are not easy for policy professionals to tackle, other aspects regarding voter registration and methods of voting are. This report examines strategies and programs that Utah is currently implementing – either permanently or as a pilot project.

Research shows that employing a combination of programs and methods for both registration and participation creates the best environment of increasing voter turnout. Additionally, publicizing any changes to the existing system helps increase participation as well as reduce potential issues for voters.

FINDINGS:

  • Elements of all three voting recommendations put forth by the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy in 2009 have been acted upon, whether through creation of temporary or permanent legislative change (see page 3).
  • Utah employs three innovative methods of voter registration outside of direct interaction with election officials: online, Election Day registration (as a pilot project in self-selecting counties until 2016), and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-old Utahns (see pages 4-8).
  • Utah has long been the youngest population in the nation. This means that low voter registration in the youngest age group can translate to low voter registration for the state as a whole, although it has not always translated to low participation (see page 8).
  • Vote-by-mail and early voting are two ways to reduce the theoretical cost of voting to potential voters (see page 10).
  • Outreach to existing and potential voters is critical for any of the suggested solutions to be effective (see pages 7,8, and 10).
  • Utah cities conducting all vote-by-mail elections in 2015 saw an average percentage change in turnout of 39% from similar municipal elections in 2011. A similar increase in turnout has been seen in the early years of vote-by-mail implementation in other states (see pages 10-11).
  • A voting system which includes numerous options for voters, such as Election Day registration, early voting, or optional vote-by-mail, is more likely to see high turnout than one without (see pages 8, 10, and 12).
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