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As Utah officially ended its 2010 vote count Monday, the state reported that just more than half of registered voters cast ballots, making it the highest turnout for a midterm election since 1994.

Despite that, Utah turnout was still second-worst among the states — based on how many citizens of voting age cast ballots, according to a George Mason University study. Many people never register. As a result, only one of every three Utahns old enough to vote actually did.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, whose office is in charge of counting statewide votes, said turnout was up compared to past years probably because a couple of high-profile races brought out voters. He said it is low compared to other states because younger voters tend to stay home — and Utah has a high percentage of young voters.

Bell's office reported that 51.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots this year.

That was "the highest since 1994. We're encouraged by that," Bell said at the official state canvass of votes — which included absentee and late-counted votes not initially reported on election night. They did not change the outcome of any race.

In comparison, 44.7 percent of registered Utah voters cast ballots in 2006; 50.1 percent in 2002; 45 percent in 1998; and 58 percent in 1994.

Bell said it was up this year likely because "you had a highly contested gubernatorial race, and you had a real contest in the [Rep. Jim] Matheson and [Republican Morgan] Philpot race." He said contested races bring out voters, and turnout was highest in Matheson's district.

The final count showed Matheson beat Philpot by 50.5 percent to 46.1 percent, with three minor candidates splitting the other votes. Gov. Gary Herbert beat Democrat Peter Corroon by a margin of 64.1 percent to 31.9 percent. While it was not close, the contest generated a lot of media coverage.

Meanwhile, the state reported that 653,274 voters participated. The U.S. Census estimates Utah has 1.79 million citizens of voting age. That means 36.5 percent of people voting age participated.

The U.S. Elections Project at George Mason University refines and compares numbers even further, excluding felons and parolees from eligible voting populations in states.

It estimates that 32.2 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year in Utah, which ties with Texas for second-worst among the states, just barely behind New York.

Bell blamed that on the many young voters in Utah, the state with the nation's lowest average age. Mark Thomas, Bell's state election director, said only about one-third of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted this year. "That's 40 percentage points behind other age groups, so that dragged down our overall numbers," he said.

How to increase turnout further, or whether that is even important, has been controversial recently.

Matheson this month called on the governor to create an independent commission to recommend how to redraw boundaries next year to result in more fair and competitive races, which he said would increase turnout. Herbert declined, saying the Utah Constitution gives the Legislature power over redistricting and he will not interfere.

Kirk Jowers served as acting chairman of the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy set up by former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to try to improve turnout after newspaper stories about how Utah has been last in the nation during recent elections. He has said the state could adopt some improvements.

He has said allowing same-day registration would help. Additionally, he suspects Utah's caucus and convention system may depress turnout because it allows a small number of state party convention delegates to essentially write the ballot without participation by most of the electorate.

Bell noted Monday that some argue that low voter turnout may not be all bad, because that likely means that those who do are well educated on the issues. "The ideal would be to have more informed voters so that we really have the populace speaking and making the choice," he said.

The canvass on Monday showed that two minor parties — Constitution and Libertarian — qualified to appear on the ballot again in two years. But the Libertarian Party did so by the skin of its teeth, by just 60 votes. To qualify, a party must have a congressional candidate that receives at least 2 percent of the votes cast.

Also of note, Bell said 28 percent of voters this year either voted early or cast absentee votes. That was more than double the percentage in 2006, when 13.5 percent voted early or by mail. —

Utah Canvass

U.S. Senate

Lee • 61.6%

Granato • 32.7%


Herbert • 64.1%

Corroon • 31.9%

U.S. House 1

Bishop • 69.2%

Bowen • 23.9%

House 2

Matheson • 50.5 %

Philpot • 46.1 %

House 3

Chaffetz • 72.3%

Hyer • 22.9%