Bill Studying Voter Participation Well Received by Committee

Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat - Salt Lake City)
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake City)

Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Millcreek) is tired of Utah’s depressing voter turnout. She wants a concrete solution to the issue, and in that spirit is running legislation to form a task force that would come up with ways to solve the problem that seems to worsen with each election.

HB 200 – Task Force on Voter Participation would create the Voter Participation Task Force. The House Government Operations Committee voted Friday to pass the bill out with a favorable recommendation with only Representative Keith Grover (Republican – Provo) voting against the bill.

The Voter Participation Task Force would be charged with studying issues related to voter participation, including past and present voter trends on Utah and the United States, and administrative barriers that may affect participation.

The task force would have until November 2016 to complete their investigation, at which time they would be required to report their findings to the Government Operations Interim Committee and consist of 9 members, including four members of the Senate and five members of the House. No more than three members from either body may be members of the same political party.

“Even in the 1980s, Utah ranked among the highest states in voter turnout. Now, we rank among the very lowest,” said Arent.

According to Arent, only around 29 percent of Utah’s voting age population cast a ballot. This is the lowest recorded number in 54 years of available data. Utah also experienced the second worst decrease in voting from 2010 to 2014. Only Mississippi had a more severe drop.

In the 1982 midterm elections, Utah’s voter turnout rate among registered voters was 13 percent above the national average. In 2014, it was more than 7 percent below.

Former Utah State Senator Scott Howell, who serves as a co-chair of the Utah Debate Commission, believes that HB 200 is sorely needed at this time. “We believe that the bill is exactly what the state of Utah needs. We have to have greater voter participation. We have to embrace our democratic roots and democracy.”

Despite various measures that have been taken over the past few years to improve voter turnout, the numbers aren’t rebounding, said Mark Thomas, Chief Deputy and Director of Elections in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, also spoke in favor of the bill. “While there have been some successes, the overall trends don’t appear to be changing. When Representative Arent came to us, we thought ‘this is a good way to take a time-out, take a breather. Let’s take a look at the data.'”

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