The deadline to register to vote online or in person has come and gone, but Utahns can still cast ballots under a new same-day registration law in effect this year.
The state now permits all residents to cast a provisional ballot at any early voting location or on election day. Voters must bring a valid ID and proof of residency, such as a utility bill. (For forms of accepted documents, see the list below.)
Utah has historically ranked among the lowest in the country for voter turnout. Democratic state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, who sponsored the law, said the effort was more than a decade in the making.
“With election-day voter registration, you always have that fail-safe,” she said. “If you thought you were registered, and you show up on election day and you’re not on the rolls … now, because of this legislation, you can ask for a provisional ballot.”
The seed for the idea came from a 2009 commission formed by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on increasing voter participation, Chavez-Houck said. At the time, Utah was already allowing voters who had let their registration lapse to cast provisional ballots, but had not yet extended that privilege to new voters.
“One of the things that the commission recommended is that we take this process that we were allowing people to utilize if they were previous registrants and just allow new registrants to do the same thing,” she said.
Chavez-Houck began running legislation soon after trying to implement same-day registration. By 2014 she was able to introduce a three-year pilot program in several counties to test drive it.
Although there was some initial resistance from county clerks, Chavez-Houck said, the pilot went smoothly.
“So overall they were convinced, and they felt that election-day voter registration using a provisional ballot like we do in the state was a good way to go,” she said.
During the 2018 session, Chavez-Houck reintroduced legislation to make same-day registration permanent.That language was folded into a larger election bill addressing automatic voter registration, mail-in balloting and voter privacy. The bill passed and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law.
Chavez-Houck said she’s hoping the new provision will have a measurable impact on voter turnout but acknowledges it make take a few years for voters to catch on.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees Utah’s elections, said his office is spending more money this year on voter outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts.
“What’s cool is because we really don’t have deadlines this year — I mean we do technically have deadlines — but you can register all the way through election day, we don’t need to advertise those deadlines, we just want you to go and do it,” he said.