Utah women have seen an increase in voter turnout since 2006, though there’s still room for improvement, a new study from Utah Valley University shows.
In 1992, Utah women had the highest voter turnout in the nation at 76%. By 2006, Utah women ranked dead last in the United States for levels of voter turnout. About 48.6% of U.S. women turned out to vote, compared to only 36.8% in the state. Utah ranked 51st, after the other 49 states and Washington D.C.
That number somewhat dramatically jumped up to 11th place this year, with 60.5% of Utah women voting in 2018 as opposed to 55% nationwide, according to a research snapshot released Wednesday by the Utah Women and Leadership Project.
“We still need work, but we are making some progress,” said Susan Madsen, a UVU professor and the founding director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project.
What exactly caused the drastic changes in Utah women’s voting is still in question, Madsen said.
“People will guess, but there’s not actual data on why (women in Utah) have disengaged,” Madsen said.
A brief from 2017 shows that more women are running for office, and while there is not exact research to show the relationship between more women voting and more women being elected to office, Madsen said she believes the two are related.
“There were more women who specifically ran than in past years in city levels and in the county and state levels,” Madsen said. “More women voting — it has to be related.”
However, the political involvement does not necessarily translate to selecting candidates as part of the caucus/convention system used in Utah.
“As Utah is one of the few states that maintains a caucus convention system, delegates hold a very powerful position in choosing candidates and thereby policy direction,” the research snapshot says. “Surveys showed that delegates (both Republican and Democrat) in Utah tend to be more polarized in their positions than general voters from their respective parties. However, this discrepancy is magnified in terms of gender priorities in the Republican Party; women comprised 56% of Republican voters in 2016, and only 24% of Republican delegates were women.”
In counties like Utah County, where the candidate chosen at the Republican convention is almost guaranteed a win at the general election because of overwhelming Republican support, the lack of women delegates is concerning, Madsen said.
“Decisions are made at those levels,” Madsen said. “Important decisions. We have to, for the good of the state and our counties, get pretty equal numbers of men and women in political positions. The research is very clear that when you have a mix of gender and race, you are going to have better results. Just having men make the decisions going forward is no longer acceptable.”
One reason it’s important for women to be involved in voting and running for office, Madsen said, is that national research continues to show that money is spent differently when women are well represented in a state legislature.
When women are elected to political positions in a state legislature, more attention and money tend to be given toward efforts directed at poverty, sexual assault, domestic violence, education and healthcare.
“There really is a connection, not just in Utah, but nationally and globally to those topics being addressed more often and money being given to those when there’s women,” Madsen said.
A 2016 survey by the Utah Foundation showed that women in Utah are more concerned than men are about social issues such as homelessness, poverty, crime and the environment, the research snapshot says. The top six issues for Utah women were education, healthcare, air quality, state taxes and government spending, crime, homelessness and poverty.
“In contrast to Utah men who are, as a group, more likely to be concerned about property and sovereignty issues, Utah women’s focus on social issues is more closely aligned with Utahns’ priorities as a whole,” the research snapshot said.
One factor that causes many people to disengage, not just from voting but from anything, is if they feel their voice does not matter. That’s worrisome, Madsen said, because the research snapshot also shows that women tend to have a greater distrust in the election process overall.
“We have to keep those messages out there, that it does matter, that you can make change, that things will happen because of your voice,” Madsen said.
“We have such strong women with good voices, they may not know that sometimes,” Madsen said. “We have the potential to really shine at the top of the nation not just with women voting, but with women running for office too.”
While Utah women are well represented in leadership in nonprofit organizations, they are less likely to serve on government boards and commissions, holding only about 28% of positions.
Utah women are active in volunteerism and service, Madsen said, but making the transition to seeing themselves as leaders is a tricky.
“There’s a real transition in the state from just giving service, donating food and clothing to ‘Oh, I have a voice, I can speak, I can be a delegate, I can put a nomination in to be on the state board or commission,’” Madsen said.
Women seeing themselves as servants in society instead of leaders is part of the reason Madsen said women are more likely to need to be “tapped” to run for office.
“Women are socialized to stay in our comfort zone,” Madsen said. “So it’s powerful when you tap women and say, ‘You should do that. You have what it takes to do that.’”
The first meetings of Restore Honor BYU were held at night, at the neighboring Utah Valley University and under the fear that simply questioning their university’s honor code would get its founders into trouble.
But months later, the group is seeing its work with Brigham Young University’s administration pay off.
“It has gotten to be a really good relationship,” said Liz Ericksen, a senior and vice president of Restore Honor BYU. “We are still going to keep up with the pressure and there’s still a ways to go, but it is nice to have that foundation to work with.”
The movement got off to a raring start in spring after the Instagram account Honor Code Stories exploded in popularity, spurring the creation of several groups intended to reform BYU’s honor code and how it’s enforced.
Restore Honor BYU emerged as the predominant student-run group, hosting both a social media campaign and a university-approved, on-campus sit-in that drew hundreds of students.
Then the movement went quiet over the summer. Social media posts from the group have been scarce, and its website is currently deactivated.
BYU released a handful of incremental changes during the same time, with the most recent update posted about two weeks before the start of the academic year. The code itself stands as it did during the spring, but changes have surrounded the Honor Code Office, including a new software that allows students to know what they’re being called in for before their first appointment, banning anonymous reporting in cases where safety isn’t a concern and changing the title of Honor Code Office employees from counselors to administrators.
Students at the university, which is owned and run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agree to abide by BYU’s honor code in order to attend. The code bans actions such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex, beards, being in the bedroom of someone of the opposite sex and homosexual behavior, including sexual relations and “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
Although the group has been externally quiet throughout the summer, Ericksen said weekly discussions have continued with administration.
“I feel like we’ve fixed a good handful of actual policy things that needed to get fixed,” Ericksen said.
The group looks to involve more students in the movement in the fall, but doesn’t anticipate another sit-in protest.
“Quite frankly, we don’t want to have to use that again unless we run into a serious blockade with negotiations, but right now we have a really great relationship with administration,” Ericksen said. “They are fully cooperating and we are just working together now on what is best for students.”
The group’s leaders received negative feedback online in its early days. As students returned to classes on Tuesday, Riley Madrian, the group’s public relations director, said the negativity has decreased.
“I think it is happening less now that more changes have been rolled out and people are seeing this is a real thing that is happening,” she said.
Ericksen said the group is looking forward to more discussion. It is putting together other items it’d like to see changed, such as adding a clarification about the item stating “respect others” to include items about bullying, cyberbullying, and discrimination, along with clarifying it in an effort to curb racism, sexism and homophobia.
“All of those are definitely not being respectful towards others and are technically in violation of the honor code,” Ericksen said.
The group expects to approach issues lesbian, gay and bisexual students who have had encounters with the Honor Code Office.
“That is a tricky subject, but we need some kind of clarification on that,” Ericksen said.
That work is also expected to eventually address transgender students, who are not mentioned in the code.
“It will be brought up,” Madrian said. “It needs to be talked about.”
Overall, both leaders said they went into the movement with no expectations, and have been pleasantly surprised with the results.
“BYU is invested in making changes that will positively affect students’ lives,” Madrian said.
Kristopher Packer’s first tour of what would become Polaris High School’s western location was a lot like a before shot on HGTV.
The walls were purple and orange, there wasn’t a commons area and it would take a lot of demolition and remodeling to get the American Fork building to look like a high school.
“When I first walked through, it was one of those fixer upper shows where you are trying to see the potential in it,” said Packer, the school’s principal.
The building was remodeled and ready to see students by the first day of school last month, officially opening the doors of the Alpine School District’s second alternative school.
Polaris High School-West, located at 704 S. Utah Valley Dr. in American Fork, joins the original Polaris High School, which is located on the district’s southern side in Orem.
The western location’s 32,452-square-foot building is being leased at $382,731 a year for the first year of a three-year lease. The building has previously housed three other schools, including Aristotle Charter Academy and the Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts, both of which have closed. It was also the temporary location of the Utah Military Academy Valdez-Peterson Campus before the school moved to a permanent building in Lehi.
The district added a second Polaris High School location as a way to eliminate the lengthy car rides students on its western side faced to get to Orem.
So far, schools are responding. The western location opened with 94 students, and Packer expects it to reach about 200 students by the end of the school year. Most of those referrals are coming from Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, where Packer was previously an assistant administrator.
“Being at Westlake, I knew we weren’t referring as much because of the distance, and so this has been awesome,” Packer said.
The alternative school offers more terms, shorter classes, a smaller student body and additional one-on-one support. It does not have athletic programs or clubs, but students can use their Polaris High School student IDs to get into events at their referral schools. Packer said that gives its population the option to still get those traditional high school memories if the students want to.
The smaller environment has led to a close group of dedicated teachers who have cheered on the school’s process, like when it got its copy machine, or been onboard even with the ambiguity that comes with joining a new school.
The school looked to hire teachers who had experience in their subject areas, but also in other fields, such as mental health. The school has a social worker, a psychologist and built-in mental health support for students.
The result is a group of teachers who believe in the school’s model — and its students. At lunch, students will join students in the commons.
“We have a faculty room, but teachers have chosen to come out and sit with the students,” said Lorrie Crandall, the school’s assistant principal.
Crandall, a former school psychologist, met Packer when they were both on Westlake High School’s staff. They plan to travel to different schools in the area to educate them about the new western location and explain to students that Polaris High School isn’t second best, but could be best for them.
“We aren’t meant to replace anything, but be a great alternative for students who need that,” Crandall said.
Packer hopes the commons area, which has cafe-style seating and multiple electrical outlets, will make the school feel more like a college. The school is also trying to meet students where they are, and plans to create a mini skate park there, along with offer basketball and Spikeball. The media center will also have a gaming system and board games.
When his students make the teams at their home high schools, Packer goes to the games. He said it’s a way to celebrate the students and hopes other students try out.
Crandall said it’s one of the ways Packer shows he cares for the students. When there’s an issue with a student, she said he works to establish relationships first before addressing the problem.
“That’s totally his nature, that is totally him, and I think that is what makes him fit as the principal for this type of school so well,” Crandall said.
The Orem City Council took Tuesday night to look a bit closer at a variety of suggested plans to help raise the wages of police, fire and emergency dispatchers in the city.
After two hours of discussion, the council approved of a list of areas where money has been found to help with wages, including the second phase of a step-ladder program for officers to advance. This program is designed to help officers more easily progress to new promotions and ranks.
The threshold needed, according to Police Chief Gary Giles and Fire Chief Scott Gurney, was $345,000. In all, there was more than $800,000 on a list of revenue sources.
During the unofficial vote by the council, all but Tom Macdonald gave a yes approval for money to be used from the list of revenue sources. Macdonald said the city had found the money, he didn’t have to say yes or no, but left it to the two chiefs to work out the details, which is their responsibility.
Councilman Mark Seastrand said, “You’re the experts. We trust you to know what to do to be successful.”
All but four line items were approved to use as revenue sources.
The first two items would have affected firefighters’ overtime and public safety retirement plans. The third item was money from Utah Infrastructure Agency dividends. The final was from wages from all city departments.
For weeks, residents, former officers and firefighters, family members and friends all clamored at the council chambers to make the point that police are leaving because nothing is keeping them in Orem, neither wages or working conditions.
About 50 people were in attendance at the council meeting. Only one, Kevin Wilkey, a former firefighter who served in Orem for 11 years and recently left city employment, was allowed to speak at the mic, but not while in uniform.
Wilkey has been one of the steady and passionate defenders of the need to keep veteran officers and take care of what the city has. He is also concerned about the morale of the two departments.
Wilkey thanked who he said were the only two who reached out to him after years of service: Mayor Richard Brunst and Councilman David Spencer.
“It was an honor working as a firefighter/paramedic,” Wilkey said. “I have been spat on, punched and vomited on, but nothing hurt more than being told I could not wear my uniform to a city council meeting.”
Wilkey’s passion was shared by the audience, which included firefighters and police officers. After his speech, Brunst stood and applauded him, the rest of the room followed with a standing ovation.
However, it was apparent Wilkey had more to say on the morale issues before ending, but Brunst asked him to not discuss individuals or go off topic. Wilkey obeyed.
It is now up the two chiefs to work with Jamie Davidson, city manager to see how they will adjust the wage scale and used to new found money.
“Use this budget. Fund the step-ladder program immediately,” Brunst said.
Two men are being held without bail and will face felony charges after several shots were fired during a robbery attempt near an Orem apartment complex last week.
Cameron Todhunter, 18, of Salem, was charged on Monday with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; possession of a weapon by a restricted person, a second-degree felony; riot, a third-degree felony; and reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
According to charges filed in 4th District Court, Todhunter planned to rob a drug dealer and gang member at an apartment complex parking garage on Aug. 27.
Todhunter had reportedly robbed the dealer in the past, and he told his girlfriend and another male to go to Promenade Place Apartments at 875 S. Geneva Road in Orem, charges state.
He also reportedly used his girlfriend’s social media to convince the dealer to meet with them. Police reported that Todhunter gave a handgun to the male and told him how to conduct the robbery.
“Officers did learn from several subjects that Todhunter was the mastermind of this incident, did provide the handgun for his associate and did communicate with the target to lure him into doing the deal,” police wrote in a probable cause statement.
Six members of another gang were waiting in the parking garage when the girlfriend and the male arrived, according to the Orem Police Department.
“Once all the parties showed up for the drug deal, things went predictably south in a hurry,” court charges reported.
The male and the girlfriend reportedly tried to drive away and the male with the handgun fired at least three shots toward the six people in the gang.
Nicholas Jordan, 23, was among the group and fired one shot “in an attempt to kill the other shooter,” charges state. “Fortunately, no one was hit by the bullets.”
Charges state the girlfriend’s 2-year-old child was in the backseat of the vehicle during the shooting.
Officers responded to the parking garage around 4:30 p.m. and found several shell casings in the area and spoke with witnesses who heard the gunfire, said Orem Police Lt. Trent Colledge. Investigators obtained surveillance footage that showed the two separate groups exchanging shots before fleeing.
Detectives learned individuals in the gang lived at the apartment complex and a SWAT team responded to the scene. Four people were detained and interviewed before three of the individuals were eventually released.
Jordan, from Orem, was arrested and charged on Monday with attempted murder, a first-degree felony; possession of a weapon by a restricted person and obstructing justice, both second-degree felonies; and intent to distribute controlled substances and riot, both third-degree felonies.
Charges state he tried to hide his gun and a bag containing more than 100 marijuana cartridges at another apartment. He was currently on probation for possession of a dangerous weapon, a third-degree felony.
Todhunter was also on parole for a prior drug-dealing charge, according to charges. If convicted he would face five years to life in prison for the first-degree felony charge.