Analysis shows ‘significant’ discrepancy in voter turnout on Salt Lake’s West Side/East Side
A voter places a ballot in a ballot box in Salt Lake City on October 18, 2021. A KSL.com analysis of Salt Lake City precinct data shows that the average voter turnout for West Side electoral districts during of this month’s election was 50% compared to 69.8% of the constituencies on the east side. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Voters on Salt Lake City’s west side turned out for the 2022 midterms at a much lower rate than their east side counterparts.
A KSL.com analysis of precinct data showed that the average voter turnout for west side constituencies was 50% compared to 69.8% for east side precincts. Overall, voter turnout for Salt Lake County was 64%.
The term “west side” can be a bit subjective, but the analysis used I-15 as the divider between the west and east sides of the city. One ward on the west side (Ward 2) had only four registered voters and was not included in the analysis.
That 20% difference between voter turnout in the east and west is a big gap, said James Curry, a political science professor at the University of Utah.
“I would say that’s pretty significant,” Curry said. “That’s often the kind of gap we’re talking about between younger and older voters, roughly. Older voters tend to participate, roughly the same difference, more than younger voters. The country, so I would say 20% is pretty big.”
Curry identified three factors that likely contributed to the discrepancy: socioeconomic differences, partisan factors, and differences in access to voters.
Socio-economic and partisan influence
Factors like education, wealth, and race all influence voter turnout — and it’s no different when comparing the west and east sides of the city.
“Basically, certain groups of people are much more likely to vote than others,” Curry said. “The east side tends to be whiter, more educated and wealthier. The west side tends to be less white, less educated and less wealthy. So just on these basic socio-economics alone we should expect to see differences in participation.”
Curry also noted that partisanship is generally a big driver of turnout. He said Democrats exist in relatively large proportions on the West Side and may have been fewer in number because no Democrats have run in statewide races this year. In fact, the lack of a “top draw” may have suppressed Democratic voters statewide, he said.
“People often go to the polls because they were actually persuaded by their party — through the candidates their party puts up, through their party’s outreach, etc.,” Curry said.
“Voting access is a big player in where people go more and where they go less,” Curry said. “If you have constituencies closer to the ballot box and constituencies less close to the ballot box, that can definitely make a difference.”
Curry said that’s still true even though voters in Utah have the option to vote by mail. This is because postal voting requires individuals to be registered beforehand and to constantly update their addresses.
There was only one ballot box — River’s Bend Senior Center, 1300 W. 300 North — on the West Side in this year’s election. There were three on the east side: the Salt Lake County Government Center, the Salt Lake City Main Library, and the Anderson Foothill Library.
The west side also had fewer daytime voting centers. The east side had five voting centers, while River’s Bend Senior Center and Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center were the only voting centers on the west side.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said a lack of drop boxes or in-person voting locations on the West Side did not contribute to the drop in turnout.
“Unfortunately, it seems voters weren’t as enthusiastic about participating in this election,” she said.
State law currently requires the county to have one drop box per city; however, four of the county’s 24 drop boxes are in Salt Lake City. Swensen said that while the West Side River’s Bend Senior Center drop box is convenient for West Side residents, it’s not one of the most used drop boxes. She added that in-person voting at the two West Side Election Day locations was low compared to other polling locations.
Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy tried unsuccessfully to get a drop box at the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center. Puy represents District 2, which includes neighborhoods like Glendale and Poplar Grove.
“My priority will always be to make sure we get a box in the west side near Glendale and Poplar Grove and that will be my ultimate goal, but it doesn’t seem to be as easy as I would have liked,” he said. -he declares. . “The Clerk’s Office has been incredibly supportive of the idea, and hopefully after this election season we can work together to make that happen.”
Swensen said a drop box at the Sorensen Multicultural Center is too close to one at the River’s Bend Senior Center and would make the distribution of drop boxes disproportionate throughout the county. Westside precincts had about 19,300 registered voters compared to 78,600 on the east side, according to county data.
“Installing additional drop boxes may seem simple, and installing the drop box itself is somewhat inexpensive, even with the new surveillance camera requirement,” Swensen said. “However, the operation of each drop box has a substantial impact on our budget.”
She said the county hired teams of unified police officers to pick up ballots from ballot boxes in the weeks leading up to election night last year after election officials doing so were tracked and filmed. This year, the county had more than 40 officers closing drop boxes at 8 p.m. sharp on election night.