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VOTERISE and the League of Women Voters Want More Engagement in Local Elections

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Municipal elections in the Wasatch Back are fast approaching. In order to boost engagement in a traditionally low-turnout election, two local organizations want to get more people involved, and are planning a community forum and a creative social media contest for young voters. 

According to Summit County Clerk Evelyn Furse, about 5,600, or 19%, of the county’s 30,000 registered voters are under 30. In Wasatch County, County Clerk Joey Granger says 5,300 of the county’s 21,000 voters -- roughly 25% -- are in that age group.

VOTERISE was founded in 2015 by Parkites Elsa and Dick Gary and is a non-partisan nonprofit organization dedicated to voter registration efforts, specifically for young voters.

Elsa Gary told KPCW that VOTERISE’s efforts could have a long-term impact on the amount of political engagement in Utah.    

“We think it’s very important to engage [voters] at a young age because historical data shows that when people start to vote at a young age, they continue to do so throughout their lives,” she said.

According to the Pew Research Center, there is no foolproof way to determine who will vote in any given election, but past voting behavior is a key indicator many pollsters use when determining who’s likely to vote.  

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of voters under age 34 who voted in the 2020 election went up 8% from 2016, compared to only a 4% increase for voters older than 34. However, younger voters are still more likely to not vote at all when compared to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

In a year with no state or national elections, municipal elections face an uphill climb to attract voters of any age. In Park City, only 44% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last municipal election in 2019. In the 2020 general election, over 91% of registered Parkites cast a vote.

Gary said she thinks that’s because so few people understand how much the decisions of local elected officials can affect day-to-day life. If they did, she said she thinks people would be much more engaged in the process.  

“One of the reasons the turnout is low is because way too many people have no idea of what their mayors and city councils actually do,” said Gary. “They deal with issues from transportation, affordable housing, law enforcement, recycling and other climate change issues, and in some cities, even things like whether or not you can have chickens in your backyard.” 

Ahead of Park City’s municipal election in November, VOTERISE will be partnering with the Utah League of Women Voters to offer a candidate forum with this year's candidates for city council and mayor at 6:30pm on Monday, October 4th at the Park City Library. Masks will be required.

Jill Lesh is the Summit and Wasatch County unit leader for the League of Women Voters and said candidates will be answering questions until about 8:30 that evening.  

“The timing is perfect,” Lesh said. “Now is the time for voters to know the candidates, because ballots will be mailed out on October 12th. We’ll have some set questions, then we will collect questions from the audience. Everybody when they enter will get a 3x5 card and they’re invited to ask a question.”

VOTERISE is also putting on a social media contest to engage young voters, called “If I Ran The City.” Young people across Utah between the ages of 16 and 29 can record a 60-90 second video explaining what their top priority would be if they were in charge at city hall. Entries can be submitted on their preferred social media platform using the hashtag #ifiranthecity.

Gary said the contest is open to people 16 years old because that is the age you can pre-register to vote in Utah. Summit County has almost 600 children on its pre-registration list. Wasatch County has just under 550.

Prizes for the winners include up to $1,000 in cash and the opportunity to shadow their mayor or city council for a day. Entries close on October 22nd. More information on VOTERISE and the “If I Ran The City” contest can be found here.

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