The study finds several reasons for this.
But the bottom line: Utah is such a Republican state that many citizens ask why should they bother to vote – the GOP candidate is going to win no matter what.
In addition, the GOP-dominated Legislature has in recent years required a picture I.D. to cast a ballot, and especially for older voters they may not have such an I.D.
Finally, Utah stops voter registration 30 days before a primary or general election, the foundation study notes.
In contrast, other states are going to same-day voter registration, which allows tardy citizens to cast a ballot.
Meanwhile, the standard response to those who bemoan Utah’s poor voting record is two-fold:
First, incumbent political bosses argue all it takes is a good race with interesting candidates and voters will turnout – the old analogy that if your sports team makes the finals, folks will show up.
Secondly, in this year of Mitt Romney just watch a high turn out in November for the first-ever Mormon presidential candidate on a major party ticket.
Voter turnout in Utah could reach a record high this fall, silencing those who say there are real concerns in Utah’s electoral process.
Yet the foundation study points to some systemic problems in Utah’s voting public, Romney’s candidacy aside.
You can read the foundation report here.
The study points out that in 2008 Utah had the 9th lowest voter turnout compared to eligible voters among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. And we haven’t been above the national turnout average since the mid-1990s.
Concerned with that trend, in 2009 then-Gov. Jon Huntsman put together a special democracy and the voter task force.
The ailing Larry H. Miller was named as chair, but he passed away during the study and Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, took over the chairmanship.
That report can be found here and addresses some of the same problems seen in the new foundation report.
While the Utah Legislature has addressed some of the task force’s concerns, many yet go unanswered, as pointed out in a Hinckley Institute paper written by Democratic state House Reps. Jen Seelig and Rebecca Chavez-Houck, both D-Salt Lake. Their analysis is here.
The new foundation study has many interesting points – and through them Utah’s unique social systems are reflected.
One example, it’s generally seen that the higher rate of volunteerism by the population of a state is reflected in higher voter turnout as well – the argument being that folks energized enough to volunteer in their community will also take the time to vote and be active in electoral politics.
The exception is Utah.
A separate study finds that 45 percent of Utahns “volunteer” in their community (Figure 7 in the foundation report), but only around 50 percent vote.
In Minnesota, however, around 36 percent of folks volunteer, but nearly 70 percent of citizens vote.
The difference, of course, is the LDS Church in Utah. Many local Mormons volunteer within their church. But despite pleas every election cycle by LDS Church leaders that the Brethren vote, they have not been doing so at high rates.
The foundation report says that proven voter turnout research shows that the more complicated and involved a state’s candidate nomination processes are, the lower the voter turnout.
Utah has a relatively complicated caucus/convention party nomination system, the foundation study says.
The study says: “Political scientists have found that states with less restrictive voting rules have higher voter turnout rates.”
Combine that with an early June party primary, and voter turnout has suffered greatly in Utah primary elections.
Primary voter turnout hit a low of 6 percent in 2008.
That, of course, also reflects that there were no major office primaries that year.
But one reason there were no major party primaries is because the candidates were picked by delegates in their county and state party nominating conventions – and so there were no interesting primary battles to be decided.
The foundation report concludes: “Utah’s closed Republican primary presents yet another restriction to voter turnout, as it limits the participation of independent voters and Democrats.
“The caucus-convention system also adds another complication, requiring voters not just to understand an additional layer of the electoral process, but to be aware of changing caucus and convention dates and locations.”
While Utah political leaders of both major parties say they want higher voter turnout, actions that would encourage such turnout – like same-day voter registration at the polls and not requiring picture I.D. at the polls – are not reflected in state legislative action.Utah Foundation Study: Partisan Politics, Polarization and Participation