At voting rights centennial, nonprofit says its aim are the 300k Utah women it says are eligible but unregistered |

At voting rights centennial, nonprofit says its aim are the 300k Utah women it says are eligible but unregistered

Voterise volunteer Joanne Slotnik talks to a potential voter at the Families Belong Together Rally at the Utah State Capitol in June 2018. Voterise registered 13,000 new voters for the 2018 election.
Photo by Stephen Trimble

Voterise Community Voter Registration Training

10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 29

Christian Center of Park City, 1283 Deer Valley Dr.

As the 2020 presidential candidates start to hit the trail in earnest, one local nonprofit is ramping up its drive to register as many voters as it can.

Voterise, started by Parkites Elsa and Dick Gary, has set a goal to recruit 1,000 female “ambassadors” who will each commit to registering 20 others. It’s hosting a training session next weekend at the Christian Center of Park City for those interested in helping the cause.

The Garys started the organization in 2016 with a focus on 18- to 29-year-olds, but decided to focus on the female electorate this year because, they say, there are 300,000 eligible but unregistered women around the state, and the historical significance of the 2020 election.

Next year is the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised women around the country; the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act; and the 150th anniversary of Utah women becoming the first female voters in modern American history.

And thanks to Elsa Gary and other voting advocacy organizations, Valentine’s Day is now Women’s Voter Registration Day in Utah, with a unanimous declaration by the state Legislature in March. They chose the date because it commemorates the first female vote cast in the United States since Revolutionary War times, when Seraph Young voted in the Salt Lake City municipal elections in 1870.

Utah was 39th in overall voter turnout when the Garys started Voterise, they said, and though it jumped to 23rd in 2018 when voter enthusiasm crested around the nation, they say there is still work to do. The Garys, who have a background in marketing, said they’re looking forward to using the declaration of Women’s Voter Registration Day to help get the word out on the importance of voter registration.

Dick Gary said one of the reasons they started the nonprofit was the landmark 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on political spending.

“It was turning our elections into auctions, giving too loud a voice to too few people,” said Dick Gary. “We wanted to try to get more voices involved. Utah has a large group of underrepresented communities (that) form a significant percent of (the) overall population. … We wanted them to have a voice.”

Voterise’s training session will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 29. Elsa Gary said the event is open to people of all genders, and will teach people what they need to know to sign people up to vote.

The trainer will also offer “helpful hints” about what to do when the conversation hits the brick wall of apathy.

“You get a lot of, ‘Oh, I’m good … I’m not really interested in politics,’” Elsa Gary said. “Well, unfortunately, politics is part of everything, including the air you breathe.”

She said it’s often helpful to initiate a conversation to figure out what people care about, then explain how that relates to upcoming elections.

The Garys explained that Voterise is nonpartisan and only endorses initiatives that directly affect voting.

“It’s not a question of how we want people to vote,” Dick Gary said. “It’s a question of getting them to vote so the real voice of Utah is heard.”

The 13,000 voters Voterise registered for the 2018 elections represented 30 percent of Utah’s newly registered voters, the Garys said. Elsa Gary said that she hoped new voters’ experience in the last election might convince them to engage more in the process after the Legislature significantly altered a ballot initiative approved by voters.

“40,000 people in the state voted only for Proposition 2 in 2018,” Elsa Gary said. “(Those are) a lot of voters that, I think, will know in the future that’s not enough.”

Did you know?

When a Utah woman named Seraph Young voted in the 1870 Salt Lake City municipal election, she was the first woman to vote in modern American history.

Wyoming passed a bill enfranchising women before Utah, but the Beehive State held elections before Wyoming did.

In the New Jersey state constitution, ratified in 1776, voting rights were extended to everyone who owned property worth more than 50 pounds, which enfranchised some African Americans and unmarried or widowed women. The state passed laws allowing female suffrage in the 1790s, only to restrict the ballot to white male landowners in 1807.

Source: Better Days 2020

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