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Political parties in Utah were challenged Thursday to a different sort of race: See who can register the most new voters, and help reduce the rate 25 percent of all Utah adults who are not registered.
"Each of you please try to register voters," challenged Kelli Lundgren, with Represent Me Utah!, a nonpartisan group that seeks to increase citizen involvement in government.
She said at a Capitol news conference that her group will track on its website, RepresentMeUtah.org, the progress of each party in registering new voters this year, and declare a winner in late summer.
The winning party won't get anything from Represent Me Utah! besides "our deep appreciation," Lundgren said plus more voters to help their cause.
Lundgren said her group is concerned that 464,000 Utah adults, or one of every four, are not registered to vote, according to recently released estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau combined with state voting records. Also, in the 2010 election, only one of three Utah adults voted the second-lowest turnout among the states.
Issues such as the "environment, education, tourism, economy and rights for all citizens hinge on a strong democracy," she said. "We must all vote."
Voter registration data show that 49.8 percent of registered Utah voters are officially unaffiliated with any party. Another 40.6 percent are registered as Republicans, 9.1 percent are Democrats and about a half-percent combined belong to the Libertarian, Constitution and Americans Elect parties.
While Republicans and Democrats already have said they plan major voter registration drives this year, Randy Miller, president of the Utah League of Independent Voters, appeared at the news conference to say his group also will push to register more people as unaffiliated voters.
"Independents are not so much concerned about conservativeness or liberalness as they are about responsiveness," he said. Miller complained parties are driving voters away by "closing or abridging primary elections, engaging in gerrymandering, instituting loyalty oaths and vigorously defending the basic setup of the caucus/convention system" excluding unaffiliated voters.
Republicans require people to register in their party to participate in their primaries or caucuses. Democrats allow unaffiliated voters to participate with them.
Lundgren encouraged voters to visit vote.utah.gov, where they can register online or get information about how to register by mail or in person.