This article originally appeared on KUER.org you can listen to the interview or read it in its entirety here.
Election Day is less than two weeks away. To find out what people need to know in order to cast their ballots, KUER’s Caroline Ballard spoke with Andrea Himoff, Executive Director of the non-partisan community engagement group Action Utah.
Caroline Ballard: Where and how can people register to vote?
Andrea Himoff: There are a few different ways. We have already passed the deadline for registering by mail, but the deadline for registering online or by text or in-person comes up on Oct. 29. So there still is time.
One other method that people don’t know as much about is that you can actually register to vote at the polls during early voting, which is happening already, or on Election Day on Nov. 5. You simply file a provisional ballot at that time to be able to register in person.
CB: Where can people find information about what’s on their ballot and who the candidates are?
AH: Yes, there’s both “what’s on your ballot?” and there’s “who’s on your ballot?”
Let’s start with who. During this municipal election, this is a nonpartisan election and these are local officials: city mayors, city councils and special service districts, which can include water, parks and recreation, fire — those kinds of jobs. You can find information about those sometimes by simply doing an internet search. Look for those candidates, see if they have web pages, and see what their history is. Have they been in the news?
There are some organizations that also track candidates for municipal elections, like advocacy organizations working on a specific issue. If there’s something you care about, you can go to those organizations for clean air, tax reform, whatever it may be, and find out what they think the candidates believe.
A really good way to find out what’s on your ballot is to look at our sample ballots that we can find on city elections websites, county election websites, and sometimes the state election websites. They show us measures like city bond measures. In American Fork there’s a bond measure for a fire station there. We can also see things like propositions. In Weber County, for instance, there’s Proposition 3 to do a study on changing the form of county government. So that’s the what.
Another way that residents in Utah County and Salt Lake County can find out about the candidates on their ballot are two initiatives that have been started by separate high school groups who wanted to help mobilize voters and make sure that they can cast an educated vote about candidates. Project 320 in Utah County has been asking questions of candidates and posting them online at Project320.org. A similar parallel initiative that Action Utah helped students begin is called Know Your Vote.
CB: Municipal elections can seem small compared to something like the presidential race or congressional races. Why is it important for people to get out and vote in a year like this?
AH: A few reasons. Number one is that municipal-elected officers are making decisions that impact our everyday lives. So these may not be the biggest issues that we’re seeing in the news, but they’re the things that really matter to us on a daily basis, and we should have some say in that.
Number two is that during municipal elections, there is generally a lower voter turnout. And when fewer people are voting, I always tell people their vote actually matters more.
Number three is that in Utah, our elections can be decided by sometimes just a handful of votes. Even at the state level, five votes can make or break an election. Just one family can change the outcome of an election, so every vote matters.
CB: As election day approaches, what’s your advice to potential voters as far as being informed and getting to the polls?
AH: I always say the biggest thing is to plan. Make a plan for how you’re going to vote. Decide today and put it in your calendar so that you carry that forward. We can get so busy in our lives and say, “Oh, shoot. We didn’t have time to vote today, and it was our last chance.”
Say, “I’m going to mail in my ballot this day at this location” or “I’m going to vote at this location. This is how I’m going to get there. This is the time I’m going to go.” Making that plan makes it much more likely that you will be able to cast that ballot and have your voice heard in the election.
CB: How can people who are interested in politics get more involved?
AH: There are a few ways. One is to help other people register to vote. You’d be surprised at how few people actually are registered, and there great efforts around the state to do that, particularly through organizations like Voterise.
Another way is to spread the word about elections. A lot fewer people know that municipal elections happen on odd years, and letting people know it’s coming up by saying “I’m voting” will help get out the vote.
Lastly is to consider actually running for office yourself. There are levels to run at from municipal levels, state boards and commissions, which are not elected but selected. There are many ways to participate in our government, and we encourage people to try to get out there and become a candidate.