Utah held its presidential caucuses last night, with Ted Cruz (better than Trump I guess) winning a super majority on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders (woo!) besting presumptive Democratic nominee by a nearly 4–to-1 margin. Granted, Utah awards fewer delegates compared to other states, but the results were kind of impressive nonetheless.
I’m not going to talk about the Republican side of things, if only because I am not a Republican. Plus, the Republican Party is the dominant party here in Utah, occupying 87!! of the 104 seats in our legislature, the governorship since 1985, and many local offices. There are places in Utah with pockets of Democratic leadership — Salt Lake City hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1974 — but for the most part, having a (R) by your name on an election ballot tends to result in a pretty easy election for the majority of the state.
A lot of the dialogue about the Democratic caucus thus far has been about the long lines and amazing turnout for the caucus, with many of the local precincts unprepared, running out of ballots and people waiting in line and voting long after the caucus ended at 8:30 pm. I was pleasantly surprised at the turn out at my caucus location, especially since Republicans have had a firm grasp on the local offices and in our legislative seats for quite some time. I am hopeful that this turnout means that people will actually turn out to vote in November for Democrats up and down the ballot.
It’s one thing to get people out to vote for a Democratic caucus, but another thing to get the same people out for a general election, especially in a deep red state like Utah. One of the reasons that we have a super majority in our state house is the defeatist attitude that I’m sure happens in a lot of places. In 2014, Utah had the third-lowest voter turnout, with only about 46% of eligible voters casting a ballot. It didn’t help any that there was only one statewide election — a special election to replace our crook of an Attorney General John Swallow— and three of our four Congressional races were not competitive, as shown by the election results below:
In a way, and as an often frustrated liberal in a sea of conservatives, I can understand why people don’t show up to vote in this state. If there is an expectation that the severely gerrymandered districts are going to go to the Republican three out of four times, it makes it difficult to have your voice heard. And with a third of all incumbents running unopposed in our legislature elections — 27 of 75 seats in the House and 5 of 15 in the Senate — trudging down on election day to vote, especially if you are a liberal in a conservative district (and vice versa), seems like a waste of time.
But it’s not.
If there’s one thing that the Bernie Sanders campaign has shown us, especially in light of his results here and many of the other states he has one, is that people can be passionate about politics if they make half an effort. Sometimes, life interferes and you can’t really wait in line for 90 minutes to spend five minutes voting. Everyone is busy, and I don’t begrudge anybody that showed up to caucus, saw the lines out the door and decided that they had better things to do with their time. But those are also the people that shouldn’t be able to complain in November when it’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Your vote does matter, even if it is the last vote placed on the pile and only adds to a landslide, or makes your candidate lose by 2,999 votes instead of 3,000.
High turnout is great in March, but it’s even more important in November. Look at the turnout numbers from the last handful of elections here in Utah:
Utahans love to vote in presidential elections, which bodes well for November. There is a lot at stake in the upcoming election. It may be hyperbole and used every four years, but this is the most important election of our lifetime. We need to do better than 46% in November. As Democrats, we can start to close the gap in some of these races and work towards doing better in the future. Change takes time, but it starts with a single vote: Yours.
Continue the work behind your candidate to get them to the general election. Take ownership of your vote and don’t consider it wasted when your person doesn’t win. Our two-party, first past the post system is inherently flawed, and it would be great if we had more options along the political spectrum or a different way for votes to be counted, or work to eliminate gerrymandering. I personally think that term limits and federally-funded elections would begin to solve a lot of the problems, but until Supreme Court decision like Citizens United are overturned, special interests will have more influence on the election than they probably should.
Change starts with you, and it continues when you vote in ALL elections regardless of the offices up for vote. Vote locally to make direct impact on your lives at home in the town or city you live in. Vote in state elections to help the legislature better reflect the citizens of your state and make sure that the minority party is not drowned out by the majority. Finally, vote in national elections and push for the changes to the process that will make us a better democracy. Every vote should count, and every eligible person should be able to vote.
It all starts with one vote…