Election 2014: Voter turnout continues to fall

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On Tuesday, 32.8 percent of registered voters in Utah County cast ballots — or 81,749 of the 249,074 people who went to the trouble to sign up to vote, according to Utah County’s preliminary election results.

Tuesday’s midterm election ballot held some competitive congressional races, bond issues in Provo and Pleasant Grove, a tax increase in American Fork, and an electric system sale in Eagle Mountain, along with numerous state and county races. But despite all that, turnout of registered voters fell even from the last midterm election in 2010, when it was 48.42 percent.

This year’s number might seem low, but the reality is voter turnout is actually even lower because it doesn’t reflect the number of eligible voters who never register, said Adam Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and writer for utahdatapoints.com, a blog that explores Utah political data.

“Utah’s not a particularly engaged state,” he said.

In 2010, Brown looked at voter turnout in Utah compared to the national average. Though Utah voter participation has been falling steadily since the 1980s, it stayed above the national average until 1996 when it dipped below that line and has never recovered.

Brown speculated one reason for the turnout was that this year’s election wasn’t on the top of people’s minds. People living in the contested and well-funded 4th Congressional District race between Republican Mia Love and Democrat Doug Owens probably saw a lot of TV ads, mailers and billboards, but in most races the only political advertising was lawn signs.

But low voter turnout is a long-term problem in Utah that can be partly blamed on the state’s single-party status, Brown said.

“It’s hard to make a causal claim … but my best guess would be simply be because elections have become uncompetitive,” he said.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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