Study: Utah ranks in bottom 3 for electoral representation

Voters cast ballots using electronic voting machines at the city offices in St. George, Utah, November 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As the polls in 14 states and America Samoa open on Super Tuesday, some critics of the primary process say that because a large number of Caucasian-dominant states assign their delegates first, they skew the perception of viable candidates of color.

According to a recent study conducted by WalletHub, many states do not deserve the top spot in the primary or caucus process because they do not adequately represent the majority of other states and their ethnic makeup.

The bottom five states that do not mirror the rest of the country’s voter diversity are Massachusetts, West Virginia, Utah, Mississippi and Vermont. The Super Tuesday states of Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Minnesota and Colorado place in the top 20 in voters of diversity.

The survey considered larger factors of sociodemographics, state economy, education, religion and public opinion and focused on 10 key matrices to determine the states’ overall scores when compared with the overall U.S. reference values.

In half of the micro categories, Utah ranked in the bottom, including gender representation (46th in the nation compared to Kentucky at first); age characteristics (last in the nation compared with Illinois at first); and “family” vs. “nonfamily” household makeup (last in the nation, with Kentucky again ranking first).

Additionally, Utah’s wealth gap between rich and poor places the Beehive state at 50, and religious composition is also last in the nation.

States that vote before Super Tuesday did not fare any better in ethnic voter representation, including Iowa, ranked at 17; New Hampshire at 43; and Nevada with 21.

Utah will cast its delegate ballots on Super Tuesday, but long before Super Tuesday, candidates of color such as Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro dropped out of the race for the United States presidency.

A sign points voters to the ballot box in Washington City, Utah, Aug. 11, 2017 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Some critics say it is because of a skewed political process that favors white male candidates who can raise enough money or spend enough of their own to essentially race-block people of color from voting.

Arizona State University professor Danny Pirtle told St. George News that the apparent whiteness of states, while not the only factor, plays a role in what states cast their votes first and how that can affect the process shaping public opinion on presumptive candidates.

“I can see the value of changing the process for the lack of diversity,” Pirtle said. “With a state like New Hampshire being a white state and Nevada with large white voting blocks, it has a tremendous impact.”

Pirtle, along with many critics of the primary process, would advocate it should be upended with the states that have a high diversity index such as Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Ohio voting first.

In this way, candidates of color may be able to raise enough money to stay in the hunt for the presidency past Super Tuesday and the award of 1,357 delegates, a large chunk needed of the 1,991 required to secure the Democratic nomination on the first ballot of its party’s convention in Milwaukee this July.

In part to blame is the media, Pirtle said, especially social media, which drives the perception of who is winning.

“This cycle there have been two very good candidates of color, which should not be the talking point but who have a great track record of what the majority of the country wants to see done, fall out of the race because they are placed in a disadvantage of the current process going into Iowa and New Hampshire first,” Pirtle said

People of color’s pathway to victory, he said, forces any candidate to work and spend three times as much as their white counterpart to remain on the ballot.

St. George resident Jerome Washington, who identifies as a Democratic African American, said it is the lack of diversity in states where he has lived that causes distrust that his voice will be heard.

“Long time ago I decided not to vote anymore,” Washington said. “If I live in a state that caucuses, I walked into a building, then a room, of largely white voters. If it’s a state that (has) primaries, it’s the same. I stand in line with people that look different than me.”

Washington said he is pessimistic about the electoral process in both Utah and his former residence of Mississippi, both of which were ranked in the bottom five of the WalletHub study.

“Nothing I care about ever gets done,” he said. “It seemed like it was going to get better under Obama, but I never noticed any change. Just the same old, same old.”

When you make people jump through hoops to vote, there is no incentive to cast a ballot.

Although many factors come into play concerning why people of color choose not to vote, it is the practice of gerrymandering – the political process of establishing voting districts that favor one party or race’s beliefs over another – that prevent many ethnic voters ballots to count.

This issue came to light in Utah recently, when a federal appeals court upheld newly drawn voting districts in San Juan County last summer after a judge found the old boundaries amounted to racial gerrymandering and violated the rights of Navajo voters.

“The issue of race and how it impacts almost every aspect of our lives continues to make people extremely uncomfortable, especially if a group believes they have something to lose if they allow the political process to be fair as the Founding Fathers intended,” Pirtle said.

Besides Utah, Pirtle said when one looks across the county, there are countless examples of gerrymandering and “disenfranchised” voters, coupled with state laws that prevent, eliminate or make it nearly impossible for voters of color, especially poor rural voters, to cast ballots.

“It is hell being poor across all races and cultures,” Pirtle said. “Your voice is almost always unheard.”

Washington said he agrees.

“I am not rich and wonder, if I was, would that make a difference? If I were rich, would they (politicians) listen?

Pirtle believes that perhaps the American political process is one of the best found across the globe, but he doesn’t know how to tweak things to make it better because of the money, political action committees and rules involved in the election process.

“It continues to be one of the most unfair processes in our government,” he said.

Pirtle – along with many others, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – said he supports a plurality in primary and general elections, with “one person, one vote” and the candidate receiving a majority wins.

“We have the capacity to manage the process,” Pirtle said. “The process benefits the candidates in power. The major benefit of candidates who come up with novel ways of doing things … can influence future legislation.”

It is not by chance or conspiracy, Pirtle added; it is all part of the current political process.

Going into Super Tuesday, many Democratic voters are still on the fence. Across national media, voters were reported to have stood in front of the polling machine not knowing who they would vote for until the last moment.

For voters of color, it is a much harder decision.

“For me, there is no one left that looks like me,” Washington said. “Why should I vote?”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!