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Should Utah Make It Harder To Switch Political Parties Before A Primary Election?

Vector illustration of a blue donkey and a red elephant
Some Democrats and left-leaning independents registered with the Republican party in order to vote in the primary election in June.

In the two months leading up to the 2020 Republican primary election, 105,000 people switched their voter registration, according to the state Elections Director Justin Lee. Some of those people were Democrats or left-leaning independents who wanted a say in the governor’s race, although it’s unclear how many. They argued that because Utah is so heavily Republican, the primary election essentially decides who will win statewide office.

Some Republicans criticized the practice last Spring, and now Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring a bill to try to prevent it from happening on the same scale again.

The legislation, approved by a House committee Friday, requires voters to register with a party before March 31 if they want to vote in that party’s primary that year.

“There is a significantly high potential for abuse in this case,” Teuscher said. “In the last year, it may have been some Democrats jumping in the race in order to vote for a more moderate candidate. However, you can easily imagine a scenario where members of the opposite party change their affiliation in order to nominate the weakest candidate to actually give their party a better chance in the general election. This is the type of gamesmanship that H.B. 197 is designed to prevent.”

But critics of the bill worried that it could disenfranchise voters.

“It implies that only one type of philosophy can be in the GOP and discourages participation in our political process,” said George Chapman, a Legislative District Chair for the Salt Lake County Republican Party. Chapman added he was not speaking on behalf of the party. “Our goal should be to provide the best candidate for the ballot. I welcome more voters to declare themselves as a Republican since it will help me and the GOP elect more Republicans in Salt Lake City.”

The bill still needs approval from the full House and Senate.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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