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Editor’s note: KSL.com's “Into the Voting Booth” series is meant to inform Utahns about the election process, how voting makes a difference in local communities and why the political process is important. Check KSL.com for future stories in this series over the coming weeks. Thanks for reading!- - - - - -
SALT LAKE CITY — Not all political campaigns are competitive, and many districts are going to remain reliably red or blue this election season.
So if your candidate won’t win, why should you vote?
The answer is simple. Voting is not just about the candidates, and it’s not just about civic duty, either. From voter registration to turnout, participation in elections actually helps to make future elections run more smoothly.
What data is collected?
First, a couple of common misconceptions about elections are that voting involves little data collection beyond tallying results and voters are entirely anonymous; however, it’s more complicated than that.
“The manner someone uses to vote, whether that’s by mail or in-person ... that information is tracked," explained Justin Lee, Utah’s director of elections. "Who someone voted for, the choices they made on the ballot, are never tracked and are not stored in any way.”
Precinct data, as this collected data is called, can be accessed at your local county clerk's office. For example, the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office website lists data including past election results and voter turnout from this year back to 1997.
So, what do local governments use this data for, and how does it help elections?
Keeping lists of registered voters and their addresses updated is the backbone of many elections, as accurate and detailed address information, including apartment numbers, is necessary for sending mail ballots.
This is why voters are encouraged to update their address if they move. County clerks can be contacted for address changes via email and phone. A master list of Utah’s county clerks’ contact information can be found online at the state elections office website. Voter registration, including address updates, can also be done online.
Voter turnout and the usage of mail-in ballots is also essential data collected by municipalities, counties and states in order to run future elections. Information is automatically updated in real-time to a statewide database known as Vista, which is managed by the lieutenant governor’s office.
Keeping an address and other data current, even if you decide not to vote, can ensure that you receive future ballots in a quick and timely manner.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office has a designated employee for data analysis. This person helps decide how many voting centers are necessary and how to spread out the centers. Past data also informs estimates of how many people are likely to vote in-person, how many temporary staffers and poll workers need to be hired, and how many voting machines need to be used. Even the number of staff working to sort and count ballots in a timely manner depends on the number of voters likely to show up.
“We do utilize that data to determine the number of vote centers, the number of poll workers, the number of resources that we need to attribute to certain areas to make our process as efficient in the election division," Swensen said. "And so it isn’t only about the candidates who win; it’s about how we conduct our operation in the county government center election division.”
By voting, you can help others in your area experience a swifter, more well-resourced election. Lower wait times, closer polls and faster results are all a result of every voter showing up, regardless of the success of their candidate.
Utah’s political parties and political campaigns also purchase voter registration information in order to reach out to active members of their base. Parties may use this information to send mailers, make phone calls, or enlist door-to-door campaign volunteers to active potential voters. Alternatively, some Utah parties, such as the Republican party, conduct closed caucuses and primaries where only registered party members are allowed to participate. In these instances, voter data is the primary enforcement mechanism.
However, individuals may still choose to privatize their political data in Utah if they so choose. Existing laws allowing individuals to privatize their information have been met with controversy, as some say the privacy went too far. For instance, the state's Republican and Democratic leadership now say they cannot tell who belongs to their respective parties.
One lawmaker is working on a proposal that would loosen up some of the privacy restrictions is expected to be seen in the upcoming legislative session. However, it may be tricky for lawmakers to roll too much back in terms of privacy, especially as one in eight Utahns has opted out of their information being made public.
According to the lieutenant governor's office website, "You may apply to the lieutenant governor or your county clerk to have your entire voter registration classified as private."
In short, voting may allow your local party to contact you and organize future campaigns, or simply send you information on upcoming elections. And for those not interested in the contact, opting out is an option.
Even the U.S. Census Bureau uses election data on a national level to analyze registration and turnout according to age, race and origin. This information is vital to understanding who votes in America and has been used to create resources, studies and visualizations of the current U.S. population and redistricting measures.
Information on the race, gender, educational and income level allow U.S. researchers and the general public to see which people are most likely to vote, and which are generally underrepresented. The U.S. Census helps electoral trends such as the 2018 record turnout of women and minorities get reported.
On a national level, political participation is used to create helpful educational and historical information, which affects our understanding of political trends for years to come.
Yes, your candidate losing an election may still sting and be disheartening.
But even if your candidate is going to lose, registering and participating in elections may make future electoral participation easier, provide increased voter resources for everyone in your area, and even allow local party members to reach out and organize a better campaign next time.
Kaitlyn Workman is a University of Utah political science and mass communications major. Contact her at email@example.com