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Legislative Committee Approves State-Funded Presidential Primary, Other Election Process Changes

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Nicole Nixon
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Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon, left, Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans, center, and Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, discuss Arent's HB204 to require state-funded presidential primaries.

Many voters experienced long lines and confusion when it came to registering to vote and casting a ballot in 2016, both during the presidential caucuses and the general election. On Wednesday lawmakers moved to tweak election laws in an effort to make the voting process less complicated.

During a House Government Operations Committee hearing Wednesday evening, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, took legislators back to March 22, 2016, the night of the presidential caucus.

“We all thought we had huge turnout because of the lines and the number of people that showed up at the caucus meetings,” she said.

But turnout was actually down 53% from 2008, the last big presidential caucus. Arent heard from many of her constituents who wanted to vote in the caucuses but couldn’t—because they were ill, had to take care of children, couldn’t get off work, and so on.

Arent is a Democrat, but said the solution—a state-funded presidential primary to replace the caucus—isn’t about politics. And to prove her point, she had Utah Democratic Chair Peter Corroon and his Republican counterpart testify in support of the bill.

“As the Utah Democratic Party,” Corroon told the committee, “we have a staff of three. We do have some great county volunteers, but certainly we don’t have the wherewithal to be running statewide elections.”

State Republican chair James Evans says his party may choose to continue with presidential caucuses in the future, “but we certainly support the funding of a primary for those political parties that want to participate.”

The House Government Operations Committee also approved a bill that would require counties sending out vote-by-mail ballots to pay for return postage. That bill would also require county clerks to inform voters if there was a problem with their mail-in ballot so the issue can be fixed and the vote counted.

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