Of, For, and By the People

By Sallie Dean Shatz

Mayoral laurels: Nobody rests till after the November 6 election. Especially not the guy who surged from fourth place into first in last month's primary. Volunteers catalyze would-be voters.
by Sallie Shatz
The buzz around town is that Ralph Becker will be the new mayor of Salt Lake City. The urban planner and environmental lawyer who drives an alt-fuels Jeep and walks to work led in last month's primaries by a healthy margin, taking almost 39% of the vote; Dave Buhler, the opponent who captured 28%, will follow him to the polls on November 6 where the majority of the former supporters of Keith Christensen and Jenny Wilson will likely back Becker. What could possibly change the picture that Becker is a shoo-in for Salt Lake's highest office?

History says: Voter complacency.

It would be easy to look at polls and predictions and relax, assured in the outcome. But Becker's primary score is still shy of the 51% needed to win the general election. Consider this: In last month's primary, only 29% of registered voters went to the polls; 71% of Salt Lake's registered voters did not. Even in Utah's general elections only 50% of registered voters go to the polls. What if all of opponent Buhler's voters turned out on November 6th and Becker's backers didn't?

On election day, Utahns will also be voting on school vouchers, a vote viewed as a national test case. That contest is garnering a great deal of national attention and a tremendous amount of out-of-state money, pushing the conservative agenda. The pro-voucher camp has the backing of the Eagle Forum with its famed phone tree get-out-to-vote capabilities and the Sutherland Institute.

Past Utah elections have been decided on as few as three votes, including some mayoral races. In the 1995 mayoral primary, Richard McKeown led with 1,037 votes over Deedee Corradini. But in the general election, with many more people voting, Corradini won by a mere 523 votes.

Citizen Participation

On September 11th, 2007, I participated in poll watching for the Ralph Becker for Mayor campaign. Poll watching can be an elaborate system of increasing voter registration, door to door and phone canvassing to identify supporter and tracking voters' activity to improve voter turn out. By election day, volunteers have logged absurd amounts of hours supporting citizens in exercising their democratic privilege.

My assigned poll-watching partner, Bianca, and I worked the Ensign School area. We spent the day knocking on doors reminding people to vote, leaving literature with information on polling places. We helped a lovely 84-year-old woman to the right polling place and encouraged many other folks to get out and vote. It was a great day on many levels, including the making of a new friend; Bianca and I look forward to being poll watchers again on November 6.

As a photojournalist working in the Middle East, I have had the honor of witnessing the jubilation of citizens who were able to vote for the first time in 22 years. I have seen the joy and pride they had partaking in their democratic selection process. I, too, take joy in exercising my right to participate.

Call the office of the candidate of your choice. There's much to be done, and they will be glad to hear from you.
– Sallie Shatz

This article was originally published on September 29, 2007.