Leaders from government, media outlets and universities across the state of Utah and Southern Utah University's Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service have joined forces to help encourage voters within the state to vote in government elections.
The newly formed Utah Debate Commission will be a vehicle for voters to get to know candidates, which will in turn increase voter turn out by organizing statewide debates in each general election cycle with live television coverage of each.
Former Governor Olene Walker, on the steps of the Utah Capitol Building, officially announced the Utah Debate Commission Monday, February 24.
According to Eric Kirby, executive director of the Leavitt Center, the state of Utah was ranked near the top in the nation for voter turnout a few decades ago and since that number has plummeted, demoting Utah to the bottom five.
"In every election period we see the same pattern, candidates only have time for a few debates, which leaves citizens across the state out of the process, never knowing who the candidates are, but this partnership will change that," stated Kirby.
Kirby said of the impact it will have on southern Utah and SUU, "Typically candidates would only go where the biggest crowd were, which meant little time in southern Utah, now they have to come here. This will allow the issues that reside in southern Utah to be given a light."
The Utah Debate Commission will organize and sponsor debates in each election cycle involving candidates for statewide and federal offices in Utah (governor, U.S. Senator, U.S. House) at one of the five universities; SUU, Brigham Young University, Weber State University, University of Utah and Utah Valley University.
This process to form the new consortium began last fall, according to Kirby, who was contacted by Richard Davis with BYU and Scott Howell, former Utah State Senator, with the hopes to create a partnership between all major universities and media outlets that will require candidates to debate.
With Commission board members from KSL, Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, FOX13 and KUTV, each debate will either be streamed live on local TV networks or online, ensuring that voters across the state will be informed of the issues and, hopefully, increase voter turn out.
TV stations have already agreed to air the hour-long debates regardless of whether a candidate fails to show, a situation that Kirby stated will ensure both parties show.
"If one skips out that just means the other gets an entire hour to themselves, which will prove unwise for the other candidate," said Kirby.
Utah Debate Commission Schedule for 2014:
Sept. 23: First Congressional District at Weber State University
Sept. 25: Second Congressional District at Southern Utah University
Oct. 7: Third Congressional District at Utah Valley University
Oct. 9: Attorney General at Brigham Young University
Oct. 14: Fourth Congressional District at University of Utah
Locations for debates will rotate each election cycle to allow fair coverage of events.