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Young Utah voter registration booming with Facebook prompts, campus events

Published September 30, 2016 8:54 pm

Registration surge • Despite the low popularity of the major parties' presidential nominees, efforts pay off in thousands of names added to voter rolls.
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Facebook harnessed its influence over millennials for a good cause last weekend: getting out the vote.

In an effort to reach young voters, Facebook rolled out a nationwide campaign by inserting a voting banner across news feeds, encouraging its users to register to vote. That effort led to a whopping 27,000 newly registered voters in Utah between Sept. 23 and 26, according to Mark Thomas, director of elections at the lieutenant governor's office. The weekend before, between Sept. 16 and 19, 1,600 people registered.

"Some states saw some record-breaking numbers," Thomas said. "Ours was not record breaking, although it got close."

Since Facebook launched the campaign, California has seen 200,000 registrations, and Minnesota saw 27,000 registrants in one day, smashing that state's record.

Utah's record was set when about 35,000 people registered in one day during the presidential caucus in March, but Thomas says most of that group used the system to update information. This time, most of the registrants were first-time voters.

"That's exciting," he said. "You've been able to tap into something where you can really reach out to first-time registrants and get them in the system."

Other campaigns targeting young adult voters took place across Utah's college campuses this week, celebrating National Voter Registration Day.

At Brigham Young University, the Office of Civic Engagement doubled its registration numbers from the past presidential election when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, ran against Barack Obama.

The LDS Church-owned school set up two voter-registration booths in and around the Wilkinson Student Center on Wednesday and Thursday as part of statewide activities sponsored by Utah nonprofit Voterise and Utah Campus Compact to celebrate the week of National Voter Registration Day.

Upcoming events are scheduled on the campuses of Dixie State University, Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah, Utah State and Utah Valley University.

At the stations, student employees and volunteers equipped with campus laptops helped students through the registration process using a website called TurboVote. By the end of the school's two-day stint, 2,500 students had visited the BYU TurboVote website to register or request an absentee ballot.

"Most of our student body is not from Utah, so it's not as easy for them to be able to go to their home-state elections office and register to vote," said Richard Davis, a political science professor and director of the Office of Civic Engagement at BYU.

Navigating the confusion of absentee ballots seemed to be the main hurdle students needed help clearing.

"People actually want to be involved when they know how to," said John Thomson, Civic Engagement Leadership Association president.

Millennials make up one of the most underrepresented groups in the electorate, according to Voterise Executive Director Judi Hilman. Young adult voter turnout in Utah in the past general election was 8 percent, and 34 percent in the past presidential election.

"Some of it is a sense of futility, like 'what's one vote?' " Hilman said.

She acknowledged the "very real" and unprecedented financial pressures facing modern college students as distractions from participating politically, referring to high student debt and low job placement.

BYU isn't one of the nine member schools that make up the Utah Campus Compact, but the school's Office of Civic Engagement partners with the compact frequently, hosting and promoting activities aimed at young voters.

"This isn't just a registration effort, it's also a get-out-the-vote effort," said Ellie Thompson, Utah Campus Compact program specialist. "We want, through these things, to be able not only just to register students but to also actually get them out that day."

In an election year with such unpopular presidential candidates, Hilman says millennial sentiment points to society's failure to educate voters on state and local government.

"Obviously there's a lot of tension about what's at the very tippy top of the ticket, and with National Voter Registration falling the day after the first debate, we do hear a lot of anger, ambivalence, confusion about that choice," Hilman said.

"Believe me, we meet plenty of millennials who will not vote for Trump, they will not vote for Hillary. … And we say, 'Fine, whatever you want. Don't vote for them. But look at what else is going on down the ticket.' "

BYU students at the booths exhibited views on both ends of the spectrum.

Victoria Featherston, a first-time voter, says the quality of the presidential candidates makes her not want to vote.

"I'm the type of person that whenever the options aren't great, I don't like to be opinionated," Featherston said.

David Zuniga feels the opposite.

"Even though we have two candidates that a lot of people are not really sure about voting for, I feel like it's very important in a way to vote for at least somebody," he said, "because I feel like if you're not exercising democracy, then what's the point of it, right?"

— The Associated Press contributed to this report —

Upcoming campus voter registration drives

• Voter registration blenders and pizza and politics at Dixie State University's Gardner Center Living Room on Oct. 4, 11 and 18 from 9 a.m. to noon.

• A tabling event at Salt Lake Community College's Taylorsville campus on Oct. 5 and an Owens-Love debate watch party at the Larry H. Miller campus on Oct. 10

• Voter registration in five locations across the University of Utah's campus on Nov. 1

• Meet the candidates and a political fair in the TSC Auditorium and on the quad at Utah State University on Oct. 4 and 17

• On-the-spot registration at Utah Valley University on Oct. 4, 14 and 15

• A Polaroid cut-out photo booth and rock the vote at Weber State University on unspecified dates.






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