BYU students encouraged to be involved in local elections

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While there is typically a low turnout in local elections, it’s easy for BYU students to get involved and make their voice heard. Some ways for students to do this are voting in the place they reside at the time, learning about local issues and understanding voting requirements. (Preston Crawley)

Each November, America has its election season. There are different types of elections, including presidential elections, state legislature and Congress elections, and local elections.

According to a document by Campus Election Engagement Project, there is a lower turnout in the local elections, meaning people’s votes can make even more of a difference. Understanding the different local government roles and their impacts is essential in influencing choices that affect the local community. 

Where should students vote?

Since Provo has a large number of students from out of state attending school, this raises the question: should students in Utah vote locally where they are going to school or in their hometowns?

Vote.Utah.gov says individuals should register at the address they consider their permanent residence. “This may be your home address or your current address at school. If you are a resident of Utah and attending school away from home, you can request a mail ballot to be sent to your current address,” it says.

BYU College Republicans club President Spencer May’s advice on where to vote is simple: people should vote wherever they reside at the time. “Those will be the policies that will directly affect you as long as you’re there,” he said. “We should be advocating for and being good citizens in whatever municipality that we live in and those votes now, could potentially be for someone who’s still making policy, when we are raising our children in a specific area.”

Abby Ryan, one of the presidents of the BYU College Democrats also believes students should vote in the city where they reside while in school rather than their home residence because the policies will impact them. “Students spend much more time in the city and state where they attend school,” she said. “Registering where you attend school is essential for voicing student concerns and needs.”

If students in Provo want to see a change in a direction they like, BYU political science professor Adam Dynes said they should go vote. “Officials are more responsive to voters,” he said. The more students in Provo that vote, the more chance there is to make a difference. 

Dynes said each cohort of students has the same thoughts and concerns, a major one being parking. “The same issues that students were mad about when I was an undergrad, I hear from students, if I ask them about it, now,” Dynes said. 

One reason why students don’t always choose to vote locally while they’re going to school is because they don’t plan on being in the area after they graduate.

George Handley, an incumbent candidate for Provo City Council District 2 and BYU professor said everyone needs to make a decision on their own about where they’re going to register to vote, but he hopes if BYU students register to vote in some place other than Provo it’s not because of laziness or lack of being educated.

“If you don’t get in the habit early to always make sure you’re registered to vote where you’re living so that you have a voice where you live, then that can turn into poor voting habits over the course of one’s life,” Handley said.

Handley said he’s seen an uptick in voting engagement among students and he’s happy to think that more students are starting to care and understand that they’re citizens wherever they are. “They’re invested in the quality of life,” he said. Handley also said a lot of students are staying in Provo after they graduate, and students can make it a better place if they get involved locally. 

Rachel Whipple, practicing lawyer and candidate for Provo City Council District 5 said she would love to see more BYU students vote. She says the first step is just registering to vote. If people are registered to vote, they’ll get the campaign literature, which they wouldn’t get otherwise. 

Why is local voting important 

Every four years when the presidential election takes place, people hear and see the words “go vote” around the nation. May says local voting is important because it’s voting for things that affect people on a day-to-day basis. 

Ryan said local voting is where most changes happen. “Our votes count the most in our local elections, and we have easier access to candidates and representatives in this way,” she said. “Our voices are much more powerful when we use them locally.”

Dynes said he believes the local government is where participation can sometimes have the biggest impact. He believes one reason people should be involved in local voting is because if they’re not, others with different preferences will be.

According to Dynes, local elections held on an off-cycle year generally have less voters than national elections and part of that is because it’s easier to be informed about national news. He said it’s easy for people to forget to vote locally because it’s not as publicized in the media. 

Because less people vote in local elections, those who do vote are more likely to be heard and have the power to make a difference. 

Handley and Whipple both talked about how there’s an opportunity to develop more of an influence with local leaders because they can have personal relationships with residents. “You can develop relationships with them, you can cultivate influence over time by being steadfast and honest and thoughtful and engaged and conscientious as a citizen,” Handley said.  

“There’s a degree of responsiveness and accountability that you can have at the local level that you don’t get even at the state legislative level and you certainly don’t get with the federal level,” Whipple said.

Whipple said there are around 7,000 registered voters in Provo, and there’s at least 10,000 BYU students who aren’t part of that registered voter pool. “If students feel like they don’t have a say, they can band together, build a voice, they can change Provo dramatically,” Whipple said. 

Dynes talked about how it can be hard for people to feel like their vote can make a difference. It won’t always make a difference, but sometimes it can. 

He said there’s been elections in Provo where only 1,000 people have voted. “There’s a lot more than 1,000 students,” he said. There have also been several times in the past 10 years that the election results were close, sometimes only the difference of 15 votes. “You and your FHE group could’ve changed the outcome of who won.”

Local issues  

Each candidate values different issues, and voters can become familiar with each of them and what their main focus is.

Dynes said the majority of voters in the local elections are usually the most informed, but he also said that the most informed aren’t always the most representative. 

The candidates in this election have profiles on Provo’s voting website, a great place to start for people looking to get informed.

Handley has three local issues that are of concern to him. The first is helping Provo become sustainable; more protective about open land and better about reducing pollution. The second concern Handley has is civility and nonpartisan political action and the third is Provo’s housing crisis. 

Whipple said her main concern is about housing and accessibility. “Right now in Provo, we are experiencing huge population growth, and a huge demand in housing that’s not backed by supply,” Whipple said. 

Along with housing and accessibility, Whipple said if smart choices are made about where to build high density housing, there can be population growth without doubling the number of cars that are on the road at any given time. “That’s crucial for quality of life,” she said. 

Whipple also encourages local voters to get in contact with local candidates and ask questions. The candidate’s profiles usually include a phone number and email, so if the voter has questions, they should reach out directly to the candidate. 

Utah voting requirements and how to vote

There are three different ways people can register to vote: filling out a paper, registering online or going in person at the County Clerk’s office. In order for someone to register to vote in the state of Utah, they must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of the state for at least 30 days before the election and at least 18 years old. 

According to Vote.Utah.gov, “you are considered a resident of Utah if your principal place of residence is in the state and you have the intention of making your residence here permanent or indefinite.”

Utah also requires photo ID’s to vote. ID’s can include: a Utah driver’s license, a Utah ID card, an ID issued by Utah or a federal government agency, a Utah concealed weapons permit, a US passport, a US military ID card or Tribal ID card, Bureau of Indian Affairs card or tribal treaty card.

If a voter doesn’t have a photo ID, they can bring two documents showing their name and address. Examples include but aren’t limited to: a certified birth certificate, a Social Security card, a current Utah hunting or fishing license or a current Utah vehicle registration. According to Vote.org, “If you’ve voted in Utah before, registered in person or provided ID at the time of registration, you don’t need to provide ID to vote by mail.”

Voters have the option to vote either by mail or in-person on election day. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters, generally sometime in October. They can fill the ballot out and send it back. People who need to replace their ballot, never received a ballot or need to use a voting machine have the option to vote early or on Election Day in person. Early in-person voting takes place near the end of October and Election Day is always the first Tuesday in November.

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