Utahns will cast their ballots in primary elections along the Wasatch Front next week. Among the hundreds of candidates competing are several millennials running for office for the first time.
Twenty-seven-year-old Sam Orton is a quality assurance manager and a native of Highland in northern Utah County. He’s also the youngest candidate running for mayor there in a five-way race.
He says working in Highland’s public works department several years ago gave him a taste for public service.
“And everyday you have residents coming out and saying ‘This isn’t working or we’re not liking the way…’ whatever it may be, and we had to solve them on that level, and I loved it,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Why not take that to the highest level, jump from the lowest to the highest.'"
Highland, a town of about 18,000, is nestled just beyond the booming tech corridor of Lehi. Orton says like other small Utah towns, Highland faces a mounting list of infrastructure needs.
He wants to encourage more businesses to move there and for them to stay open on Sunday, a controversial proposition rejected by voters five years ago.
Orton isn’t alone in wanting to shake things up in municipal races this election cycle. As millennials make up more of the voting population, they’re increasingly dipping a toe in politics.
Tinesha Zandamela is a 23-year-old senior at Brigham Young University. She’s running against an incumbent for a seat on Provo’s City Council.
“I was definitely of the mindset that if I ever decided to run, I had to be a certain age and I had to have a certain level education to run in local politics… but I think especially now, it’s a lot more accepted that millennials are going to run for office, and that we represent a very important part of the population.”
Zandamela says because Provo has a large student population, she feels her candidacy is finally making young people and other underrepresented groups more visible in politics.