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40 percent: Utah's voter turnout sets historic low

40 percent: Utah's voter turnout sets historic low

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News/File)

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Six out of 10 active registered voters in Utah chose not to cast ballots this election, setting a new historic low for voter turnout.

This year, only 40 percent - about 496,000 of the 1.2 million active registered voters - turned in ballots, Utah deputy director of elections Justin Lee said.

Turnout is always lower on non-presidential years, but data from the Utah lieutenant governor's website that goes back to 1960 shows the previous low for turnout was 45 percent, set in 1998 and again in 2006.

Part of the decline might be a steady rise in apathy among voters that began years ago, but this year's ballot didn't help. There was only one statewide race, a special election for attorney general, and three of the four congressional races weren't very competitive.

"In the heavy Republican areas where there was basically no Democratic competition, they didn't come out to vote," Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans.

"We have so few races that are actually competitive. People don't feel the need to vote," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said. "There's also a general feeling of being fed up with politics based on what's been going on the federal level."

We have so few races that are actually competitive. People don't feel the need to vote. There's also a general feeling of being fed up with politics based on what's been going on the federal level.

–Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon

Turnout was highest in the 4th Congressional District where 44 percent of voters cast ballots, state figures show. That race was the only one without an incumbent and was by far the most competitive and closely watched race of the four congressional competitions.

Republican Mia Love held off a stiff challenge from Democrat Doug Owens to win by a 50-47 percent margin in that district.

In the other three races, incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz each won by wide margins over Democratic opponents. In the attorney general race, Republican Sean Reyes won by a 63-28 percent margin.

Turnout was 42 percent in Stewart's district; 38 percent in Chaffetz' district; and just 36 percent in Bishop's district.

Republicans in Utah tend to assume somebody else will vote to represent their views, and Democrats and third-party goers often think it's not worth voting since they are outnumbered anyway, said Tim Chambless, a professor of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Republicans make up 45 percent of registered voters in Utah, compared to 10 percent for Democrats. Independents account for 45 percent.

Chambless said the low voter turnout doesn't surprise him, but is nonetheless disappointing.

The average voter turnout in Utah in non-presidential elections was 59 percent from 1962-1982, state figures show.

But since 1986, the average for midterm elections has plummeted to 44 percent.

"It's both a troubling trend and something we should definitely worry about," Chambless said. "If concerned, angry citizens are increasingly disengaged from their government, then our democracy is in deep trouble."

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