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Utah among lowest in nation in political engagement, report says


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SALT LAKE CITY — Political campaigns in Utah hoping for high voter turnout in next week’s mid-term election were served Monday with another reminder of the challenge of voter turnout in Utah.

A new analysis conducted by found Utah as having the 5th lowest political engagement of all states and the District of Columbia.

The survey took into account metrics like the percentage of voters registered in the 2012 presidential election and total political contributions.

At the University of Utah, associate professor of political science Matthew Burbank said the low engagement rating is bad news for challengers and Democrats particularly in the Beehive State.

“Generally incumbents do better in low turnout races,” Burbank said. “There’s more chance of an upset in a higher-turnout race.”

Burbank was surprised by the low ranking because of Utah’s history of political participation and levels of civic activity.

The state ranked ahead of only Texas, Hawaii, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Neighboring Colorado had the second-highest rate of political engagement, according to the study. Massachusetts had the highest rate.

State officials have been concerned for some time with the more specific issue of voter turnout.

Our office is always looking at that, trying to figure out what we can do from the Lieutenant Governor's Office, chief election officer, to get people more engaged.

–Mark Thomas, Lieutenant Governor's Chief Deputy

Utah Director of Elections and Lieutenant Governor’s Chief Deputy Mark Thomas said the legislature committed $250,000 to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to facilitate voter education and registration efforts.

Among those efforts is a recent ad campaign featuring Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox interacting with the masses and encouraging them to visit, where they can find polling locations, early voting locations, sample ballots and a link to the state’s online registration site.

“The last few decades we have been at the lower end of turnout as you compare it nationally, and so it is a concern and that’s part of the reason why the legislature was great to give us some money to help with that,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he anticipated turnout at best to reach roughly 50 percent in Utah for the 2014 midterm, which would be slightly lower than in 2010.

“Our office is always looking at that, trying to figure out what we can do from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, chief election officer, to get people more engaged,” he said.

Thomas was hopeful an experimental same-day voter registration program this year would succeed in boosting turnout to some degree. It is available in five counties — Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Sanpete and Kane.

Monday was the last day prospective voters could register in person at their county clerks’ offices. Tuesday is the last day people can register to vote online.

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Andrew Adams


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