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The Utah Jazz are pushing to increase voter registration and participation

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) point to Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) after Bogdanovic (44) tipped a missed free throw back to Mitchell at the end of the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Utah Jazz want you to vote.

This isn’t about an All-Star ballot or any NBA-related honors. The Jazz, along with many teams in the league, are leaning on the power of their platform to rally people around civic engagement.

“People might think that their vote doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it really does,” guard Mike Conley said Saturday. “Go to your local and state legislation and try to figure out ways to improve your communities and your cities. That’s where it starts.”

The Jazz are hoping that through multiple different initiatives, including opening up Vivint Arena as a polling site, they can increase voter registration and turnout and increase education surrounding not just national elections, but local and state elections as well.

In agreeing to resume the 2019-2020 NBA season after three days of postponed games, the players have continued to use their voices to raise awareness surrounding issues of racial injustice and criminal justice reform, but they realize that awareness is not enough, that action is necessary.

“Voter registration is the first step, and then there’s the education component and then acting and actually voting,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Saturday. “Everybody sees even more the importance of that, because ultimately, that is the vehicle through which you can create change. We’ve got to have more people doing it for it to be effective.”

While Conley, one of the league’s veterans, has long been a registered voter and understands the importance of civic participation, he’s the first to admit that he wasn’t always as knowledgeable or as active when it comes to voting.

He isn’t alone.

Voter turnout from people age 18-29 has long been the lowest of any age group. That’s something the NBA and its players are hoping to change.

“Voting early on when I was 18 years old wasn’t necessarily a priority. It wasn’t something that we really took much interest in,” Conley said. “We weren’t really watching the news or trying to get caught up on the legislation, the laws.”

“Go to your local and state legislation and try to figure out ways to improve your communities and your cities. That’s where it starts.” — Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley

Donovan Mitchell is in the same boat. At 23, he’s only been of eligible voting age for five years and is just now starting to ask different questions and seek out information.

“I’m not the most educated person, but I pride myself on being able to ask questions and ask people who are educated to better myself and further my knowledge,” he said Saturday.

Catching the interest of a younger generation is not an easy task. When young voters have been so hard to reach for so long, how can you change their perception of voting? The Jazz and the NBA are hoping that continued visibility from the league’s biggest stars will help get the message across. 

As Mitchell explained it, parents, teachers and other authority figures can talk about something until they’re blue in the face without the message really getting across.

“Quite frankly, when your parents tell you to do something, it’s not the same message,” he said. “When you have your favorite player, your favorite superstars, favorite athletes ... when you hear it from somebody else or someone you look up to, it’s like, ‘Well, maybe this is important.’”

As the NBA makes a push to encourage its fans to register and then actually vote, the players realize they have to walk the walk.

In some of the recent meetings in the NBA’s bubble, it came to light that only about 20% of players voted in the last election. If the league is going to convince its fans to be more engaged, they know they have to start with themselves.

The Jazz began pushing for everyone within the organization to register to vote before the team went to Orlando in July and have continued to beat that drum while in the bubble.

“Lindsay Twiss, who works with our organization, has set up a table in our team room for guys that have not yet registered. Jordan Clarkson sent something out the other day with registration forms,” Snyder said. “It’s something the guys are talking about amongst themselves and their awareness has been raised.”

Many NBA players can get bogged down by the confusion of not knowing which state to vote in, whether that be the one they play in or the one they live in during the offseason. Those conversations are being had, too, so players can gain clarity on the situation and make sure they aren’t unprepared when Election Day rolls around.

“I don’t want it to have to be the same way for the next 18-year-old or the next generation,” Conley said. “I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I’ve made or anybody in front of me. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take much energy to do it.”

Voter registration in Utah must be completed 11 days before an election. Visit vote.utah.gov for information about registration, mail-in balloting, candidates and issues.