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Analysis shows ‘sizable’ gap in Salt Lake’s west side/east side voter turnout

SHARE Analysis shows ‘sizable’ gap in Salt Lake’s west side/east side voter turnout

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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 voting precincts was 50% compared to 69.8% of east-side precincts. Voter turnout for Salt Lake County overall 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 west-side precinct (Precinct 2) only had four registered voters and was not included in the analysis.

That 20% difference between east and west voter turnout is a big gap, said James Curry, a University of Utah political science professor.

"I'd say that's pretty sizable," Curry said. "That's often the kind of gap we're talking about between younger and older voters, roughly. Older voters tend to turn out, about that same difference, more than younger voters. We obviously make a big to-do about youth turnout in the country, so I'd say 20% is pretty big."

Curry identified three factors that likely contributed to the gap: socioeconomic differences, partisan drivers and voter access differences.

Socioeconomic and partisan sway

Factors like education, wealth and race all influence voter turnout — and that's no different when comparing the west and east sides of the city.

"Basically, certain groups of people are far more likely to vote than others," Curry said. "The east side tends to be whiter, more educated and more wealthy. The west side tends to be less white, less educated and less wealthy. So just on those basic socioeconomic things, we should expect to see differences in turnout."

Curry also noted that partisanship is usually a big driver of turnout. He said Democrats exist in relatively large portions on the west side and may have turned out less because there were no Democrats running in statewide races this year. In fact, the lack of a "top-of-the-ticket draw" may have suppressed Democratic voters statewide, he said.

"People often turn out to vote because they've been effectively persuaded to by their party — through the candidates their party is running, through outreach from their party, etc.," Curry said.

Voter access

"Access to voting is a big player in where people turn out more and where they turn out less," Curry said. "If you have precincts that have greater proximity to drop boxes and precincts that have lesser proximity to ballot drop boxes, for sure that can make a difference."

Curry said this still holds true even though Utah voters have the option for mail-in voting. This is due to the fact that mail-in voting requires individuals to be registered beforehand and to consistently update their addresses.

There was only one ballot drop box — River's Bend Senior Center, 1300 W. 300 North — on the west side during 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 day-of voting centers. The east side had five voting centers, while River's Bend Senior Center and the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center were the only west-side voting centers.

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 lower turnout.

"Unfortunately, it seems that the voters were not as enthused 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 while the west-side drop box at River's Bend Senior Center is convenient for residents on the west side, it is not one of the most used drop boxes. She added that in-person voting at both the Election Day locations on the west side were low compared to other voting 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 do get a box in the west side near Glendale and Poplar Grove and it will be my ultimate goal, but it doesn't seem to be as easy as I wished it was," he said. "The clerk's office was incredibly supportive of the idea, and I hope that after this election season we can work together to make this happen."

Swensen said a drop box at the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center is too close in proximity to the one at River's Bend Senior Center and would make the distribution of drop boxes throughout the county disproportionate. Westside precincts had about 19,300 registered voters compared to 78,600 on the east side, according to county data.

"It might seem simple to install additional drop boxes, and the drop box installation itself is somewhat inexpensive, even with the new requirement of the surveillance camera," 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 drop boxes during the weeks leading up to election night last year after the poll workers who used to do it were being followed and filmed. This year, the county had over 40 officers closing drop boxes at exactly 8 p.m. on election night.