SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is an intensely partisan state with the majority of the votes going to the conservative party. In this kind of political climate, it can be challenging for constituents to find reasons to go to the polls and cast their votes. However, for many students at the University of Utah, this election cycle felt different. With a critical race in Utah’s 4th District and several progressive ballot measures, students were more motivated than ever to get out and vote.
Wyatt Hudgens, a first-year student at the U, said that he voted because, “Voting is a right that we often take for granted, and it is important to participate in the political process by electing your representatives.” Hudgens said that the non-binding Question 1 and Proposition 2 were his main motivators to vote in the midterm election.
Hudgens opposed Question 1 because he believes that gas tax should fund roads and infrastructure rather than education initiatives. Although Hudgens supported Proposition 2, he doesn’t believe that this ballot measure will have a substantial impact on Utahns until the medicinal marijuana program is expanded to a broader range of illnesses.
Mitt Romney will be representing Utah in the United States Senate after receiving over 62 percent of the votes. Although Romney faced many qualified opponents, despite public debates and funding, none of them managed to close the gap between themselves and Romney.
Erin Sleater, a third-year student at the U, believes that “the election results will ignite the motivation we need to start real change within our state and country.” Sleater said that students at the U will be more motivated to vote in the future because of the different ballot measures; as well as the state and national races becoming more competitive, like the 4th District congressional race.
The 4th District U.S. House race was regarded as a toss-up until Ben McAdams gained a significant lead over incumbent Mia Love just last week. McAdams’ leads by a margin of 0.26 percent, just above the 0.25 percent needed to qualify for a recount.
The race between Love and McAdams was highly publicized and caught the attention of national donors and the Federal Election Commission after Love violated federal guidelines regarding campaign funding for primary elections. In Utah, candidates are not permitted to raise funds for primary elections if a primary is not expected to occur. Love admitted to improperly raising primary election funds and told the FEC that the campaign would work to refund the contributors or redistribute the money for the general election fund.
Three constitutional amendments were proposed during this election cycle. The first, Constitutional Amendment A proposed a property tax exemption for active members of the military, this amendment passed. The second, Constitutional Amendment B, proposed a tax exemption for government-leased property, 71.62 percent of citizens voted against this amendment. Finally, Constitutional Amendment C passed, giving the legislator the ability to call a special session, limiting the power of the state executive branch.
Question 1 proposed a non-binding opinion about an increase in gas tax to fund education. Question 1 failed, with over 65 percent of constituents voting against the question.
Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative passed, however, legislators are working quickly to create an alternative bill to replace the ballot measure Utahns already voted on. With the proposal of the new bill, there would be more state-run pharmacies, but fewer licensed grow facilities. A special medical cannabis board would also be implemented and would require patients under the age of 21 to seek approval from the board before obtaining medical cannabis. Legislators are facing some opposition to the compromise bill because of the significant changes to the citizen ballot initiative.
The ballot measure to expand Medicaid to include people younger than 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line passed with 53.32 percent of the popular vote.
Proposition 4, the ballot measure to create an independent non-partisan redistricting seven-member redistricting commission for congressional and state legislative districts, is still a toss-up with 50.34 percent for the measure, and 49.66 percent against the measure.
Meghan Pollard, a fourth-year student at the U, majoring in Marketing said that Proposition 4 was a ballot measure that motivated her to vote. She believes that “Our voices are only heard if properly represented and loud enough, redistricting would allow for that.”
Meghan believes this election cycle is different because citizens are acting on their frustrations with the current administration and trying to create positive changes within federal and state governments. “People are angry, scared, and disheartened by the current state of the government. They rallied around that frustration and really went to work to improve their lives and the future of America.”
Voter turnout for this midterm election cycle hit a record high across the United States. Over 110 million people voted, compared to 83 million in 2014. In Congress, Republicans strengthened their control over the Senate, but Democrats picked up 29 seats and gained control of the House of Representatives.
Julianne Skrivan, a former White House Intern and current Johns Hopkins University masters student for Political Communications and Strategy, attributes voter increases to the increased publicity of the election cycle, especially with social media becoming more prominent to encourage political participation.