On Tuesday night, Utah’s Democratic Party is launching a voter registration drive to increase the number of registered voters in the state. Utah was once a state with high voter turnout, but that legacy is not holding up to today’s numbers.
One hundred and fifty years ago, it was a Utahn who became the first woman to vote in the modern nation. In 1980, Utah ranked 5th in national voter turnout. Now Utah is ranked much lower at 23rd in the country. Hundreds of thousands of Utahns are not even registered to vote, many of them young people. It’s because of this a voter registration drive is being launched this week by the state’s Democratic party.
“We’re not just talking to registered Democrats, we want everybody to be registered,” said Ingela Rundquist, the Deputy Director of the Utah Democratic Party and main organizer of the drive starting on Tuesday. “It benefits everyone to be registered. Already a third of the voters in the state are unaffiliated so it’s not like we’ll be asking you to just register Democrat, we just want you to register, period.”
The digital tools and training for this drive are being provided by Voterise, a non-partisan organization that works to increase youth voter registration. In the 2014 midterm elections, only 8.1% of Utahns aged 18-29 voted. Voterise did a study to see why so few young people were turning out.
“They don’t understand the system, that was one of the main answers,” said Hope Zitting-Goeckeritz, Executive Director of Voterise, on low youth voter turnout. “They don’t believe in the system, and one of the number one reasons is they feel like their vote doesn’t matter.”
In response to the idea that individual votes don’t matter, Rundquist points out that races can come down to a handful of votes — for example, in 2016 incumbent LaVar Christensen was just five votes away from losing his seat to his opponent, Suzanne Harrison. In 2018, the seat was open and Harrison won the election with 56% of the vote.
For the drive launching this week, volunteers from all party backgrounds will be trained and then instructed how to simply reach out to their inner circles and confirm that their friends and family are registered to vote.