Utah’s voting process considered outdated in digital age

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Some political experts believe Utah’s voting processes lag far behind modern technology

Outdated, complicated and faulty voting processes are causing issues, and with the 2016 election just months away, many are evaluating the unchanging voting techniques.

Richard Davis, a political science professor at BYU and columnist for the Deseret News, expressed the need for simpler voting to increase voter participation.

Sarah Strobel
Volunteers help voters at Wasatch Elementary School. (Universe Archives)

“Apathy should concern all of us because a democracy is based on public participation,” Davis said. “When the public at large is not involved, at the least in voting, then governance is left to a small group and democracy no longer exists.”

About 24 percent of the eligible voter population do not vote because they are simply not registered, according to a 2014 study from the Pew Research Center about voter participation.

Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1993, making it possible for citizens to renew their driver’s license and update their voter registration information at the same time. Although campaign analysts agree this was a big step for voting in the U.S., many political experts believe that paper is an outdated system for voter registration in the age of social media.

One in eight voter registrations are invalid or inaccurate, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The study said over 1.8 million deceased Americans are still registered as active voters and 2.75 million people are registered to vote in more than one state.

Davis said voter apathy and a lack of faith in the voting process play a big role in low voter turnout, but other factors contribute as well.

“Some people believe their vote makes no difference or they see no need to vote,” Davis said. “A large reason in Utah, I believe, is the lack of competitive elections.  When there is only one name on the ballot because two parties aren’t competing, voting is pro forma. Plus, competition leads to actual campaigns and then attempts by candidates and parties to get people out to vote.  All of that is missing when there is not two party competition.”

Sarah Strobel; Sarah Hill
Voters cast their ballots at Wasatch Elementary School. Some argue that Utah’s voting process is outdated.

Catherine Rampell, a columnist for the Washington Post, said the vetoing processes—like same-day registration and early voting—cuts off a large portion of the voting population and creates mistrust between voters and the government.

Davis said organizations at BYU do work to prompt voter participation, but the efforts still need to be increased and improved.

There was a voter registration booth set up by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the Office of Civic Engagement in the fall of 2014 at BYU,” Davis said. “I hope to do that again in 2016.”

Davis listed same-day registration, automatic registration and mail-in voting as ways to simplify and improve the voting process.

“Voter turnout is much higher where automatic registration occurs,” Davis said.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law cited the state of Oregon as a model for successful automatic voter registration. Oregon passed a law to automatically and electronically add eligible voters to the voter roll. Citizens with DMV records are not required to submit any additional information to become a registered voter. The Brennan Center expects this law to place Oregon as one of the top states for voter registration rates.

An incident occurred during the 2014 elections in New Hampshire that spurred conversation about the role of social media in the polling booths. A voter posted a picture of his completed ballot on social media, and the legality of such an action was questioned. The Washington Post quoted Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of New Hampshire’s ACLU branch, to discuss how the issue was resolved.

“Displaying a photograph of a marked ballot on the Internet is a powerful form of political speech that conveys various constitutionally protected messages,” Bissonnette said.

Now it is no longer illegal to take a photograph of one’s completed ballot and share it on social media. This principle of the “selfie ballot” may spur voter participation and civic engagement because it bridges the gap between a voting process that many citizens see as outdated in the social media age.

Voter registration forms for residents of Utah County are available at the local city office and the Utah County Elections Office on Center St. Mail-In Registration Form are also available. Residents may also register to vote online if they have a current Utah Driver’s License or State ID Card.

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