A voter marks his ballot, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, at the Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission wanted to forecast “voter participation health” this year and commissioned the ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy to take an objective look at Arizona’s registration and voter participation data. Two reports paint a dire outlook for Arizona’s civic engagement, indicating that 45 percent — or 2.1 million of Arizona’s eligible voters — ignore elections.

The findings were recently presented to an audience of Tucson leaders and residents. The reports — Arizona’s Voter Crisis and Primary Elections: Primarily Forgotten — were published before this year’s primary election, Aug. 28.

By now we have all read the headlines about record-breaking voter turnout at the primary election.

It was, in fact, the highest in the state’s history. Equally reported was that voter registration increased by six percent when compared to the 2016 primary. However, to assume that all of this will transfer to increased voter turnout at the upcoming general election would be a mistake, because it takes time for behaviors to become lifelong habits.

What Morrison has assembled in their reports is an outlook that impacts our state’s long term “civic health.” It is accumulative data over time that points to trends that must continue to be addressed by elections officers across our state. We can’t lose sight that when compared to other states, Arizona ranks 43rd in voter participation. And that a close examination of voter registration by a political party shows a fast-growing group of voters who are forfeiting their potential impact.

Specifically, people registered as “party not designated,” referred to as “independents,” are almost equal in number to registered Republicans — 1.1 million and 1.2 million respectively. Independents represent 34 percent of registered voters, yet 38 percent sat out the 2016 elections.

Most important is that when eligible voters remove themselves from the electoral process, they are creating an environment where a small plurality of people are making decisions for the whole. They may believe that they aren’t voting, when in essence their absence at the ballot box is a vote. This is one reason that Morrison points out in their reports that in Arizona, “voters don’t determine elections, non-voters do.” The data indicates a continued need to proactively engage our citizenry as a means of improving participation in elections.

When drawing comparisons between Baby Boomers and Millennials, there are huge gaps in voting behavior in Arizona. Specifically, that Baby Boomers are registered to vote at 72 percent and represented 33 percent of votes. While Millennials, adults aged 20-35, represented 49 percent of eligible, non-registered voters represented 25 percent of votes. When the median age in Arizona is 37, it’s clear that more voters within this age group should be registered and showing up at the polls.

The recent uptick in voter registration and participation in Arizona’s primary election is a step in the right direction, but there is still a voter crisis in our state.

The statistics need to be improved. Some voters still feel overwhelmed by the registration process. They continue to need clear, concise communication from candidates on issues important to them. And they expect a positive experience at the polls or with their mail-in ballots. Complacency is the biggest threat to our voter health. Even with the recent successes in turnout and registration this risk is still real.

Find all pertinent election information in time for the Nov. 6 general election, as well as both reports, on the Citizens Clean Elections website www.azcleanelections.gov.

Tom Collins is executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. He was an assistant attorney general for the Arizona Attorney General’s office, focused on election law, appeals and attorney general opinions. He clerked for Justice Scott Bales and the late Justice Michael Ryan of the Arizona Supreme Court.