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Democrats hope young voter turnout will turn Utah blue

Utah has the youngest population in the country, according to U.S. Census data, and this election, democrats in the BeeHive state are hoping their voter turnout will be strong enough to decide its political fate. Producer Liz Adeola with public television station KUED in Utah reports on efforts to engage young voters and the political issues that motivate them.

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  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    University of Utah freshman Sheely Edwards has logged many a mile, walking the sidewalks this campaign season.

  • SHEELY EDWARDS:

    I've been doing canvassing. I've been doing phone calls and sending text messages.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    At 18, Edwards serves as an intern for the Ben McAdams campaign. McAdams is running a tight race in the 4th congressional district against Republican incumbent Mia Love, who is backed by Mitt Romney. It is the most contentious race on the Utah midterm election ballot and even has some people wondering if the BeeHive state will turn blue and if millenials will help tip the scales.

  • LEXI KAILI:

    I think there is a huge stigma. A misconception around the fact that your vote doesn't count. Whereas in local elections of course it counts significantly especially in states that are concerned about switching from red to blue or blue to red or vice versa. It all comes down to your local elections.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    Days before the election, prospective voters sit here at the Hinckley Institute of Politics located on the campus of The University of Utah.

  • PERSON:

    It is terrific to have the younger generation and older generation coming together today to share interest on important public policy.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    They are also here to find answers before they vote on key issues.

  • PERSON:

    Mass killings of concertgoers in Las Vegas Nevada and high school students in Parkland Florida have brought gun violence back as a primary issue in our political life.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    Edwards says her political life was just beginning last spring when tragedy struck at Parkland. She lived in Maryland at the time and was drawn to march with thousands of student activists in the March for Our Lives Rally in D.C. I asked her if there is still momentum in the movement.

  • SHEELY EDWARDS:

    I hope that, that energy will then translate to them voting. I know a lot of them already have. But yeah, I think it just, it's that connection I think between seeing involvement in politics as a solution to a lot of the problems that they see around them.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    27-year old University of Utah graduate student Lexi Kaili sees it too.

  • LEXI KAILI:

    You know, I've personally seen groups that I didn't think would be interested in voting really step up to the plate and say, you know I've already mailed in my ballot because I understand the importance.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    A recent survey of 18-29 year-olds by the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School found that 40 percent said they are more likely to vote compared to 2010 and 2014. Aundrea Peterson is chair of the Emerging Leaders Institute, a group that hopes to get more millennials involved in the political process.

  • AUNDREA PETERSON:

    We are hoping to be shockingly surprised and that we'll see a big influx of people actually going to the ballot box and showing we have a voice, we have an opinion, and we can express it.

  • SHERYL ALLEN:

    I don't think there's any question that concern or enthusiasm depending upon your own personal philosophy about what's going on in Washington, particularly Presidential politics is a very big motivator.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    There are other issues on Utah's ballot that have stirred young voters to action. Proposition 2, a citizen initiative to legalize medical marijuana and Proposition 4 which would establish a non-partisan redistricting committee.

  • SHERYL ALLEN:

    I'm Sheryl Allen, we enthusiastically support Proposition 4.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    Sheryl Allen, a former Utah Republican Representative now volunteers with the Utah Citizens Council, a non-partisan group made up of retirees with significant experience in public policy.

  • SHERYL ALLEN:

    I think if they understand the issues and how it can affect their future, that that's a key to getting them activated.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    Allen believes Prop 4 would prevent gerrymandering and give a voice to millennials who feel silenced.

  • SHEELY EDWARDS:

    I think especially when your representatives don't look like you. They're not as diverse as our population, they're not even near the ages of a lot of millennials that can also really make people feel like they're not going to respond to their needs or their wants.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    Most agree that apathy isn't the answer and that forums and programs like this one working to engage millennials in the political process are.

  • AUNDREA PETERSON:

    Just trying to educate voters about each ballot initiative and there's a lot of them, It's a big ballot.

  • PERSON:

    Your mailboxes are filling up I'm sure and your phone is ringing off the hook. So don't forget to vote. They're trying to get you out and we are trying to urge you to get out.

  • LIZ ADEOLA:

    This year 27 Utah counties, more than ever before, can vote by mail. And so far, more than 33-percent of the state's nearly 1.4 million eligible voters have cast their ballot ahead of the election. For a bit of perspective 46 percent of Utah voters was the total turnout for the 2016 midterm election.

  • AUNDREA PETERSON:

    Part of Democracy is showing up. And just hoping that momentum keeps it going and that they want to actually be a part of the process in the system.

  • SHEELY EDWARDS:

    One of the reasons that I ended up actually coming out to Utah was cause I felt like there was something really special about Utah's local politics and people just really want to do the right thing by others. And they want to be able to improve the lives of other people. They want to be able to have that positive impact. And I think that really made me excited to become involved in Utah politics.

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