Bill advances to allow Election Day voter registration in Utah
Published: March 6, 2013 03:49PM
Updated: March 7, 2013 01:55PM
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Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, speaks about her bill, HB91, during a House Government Operations Committee meeting. The bill would allow Election Day voter registration. Currently, a person has to be registered 30 days or more before an election to cast a ballot. The committee passed the bill by a 6-2 roll call vote, Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

Utah is a step closer to allowing Election Day voter registration.

The House Government Operations Committee voted 6-2 Wednesday to endorse HB91, which would have Utah join 10 other states that allow it.

Its sponsor, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said Utah law now allows people to register on Election Day and cast provisional ballots. While that is used to register them for future elections, the provisional ballots are discarded if officials find those people were not previously registered in Utah.

“My bill would actually count the vote,” Chavez-Houck said. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office reported it discarded 2,600 provisional ballots last year, and Davis County reported discarding 1,275.

The bill was supported by the Utah Republican Party, the League of Women Voters, the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office and student Democratic Party organizations that packed the hearing room. But it was opposed by some county clerks who said they could not handle or afford the extra work the change would likely bring.

“I’m sorry if it causes somebody more work, but this is the United States of America — so let’s get the people to the polls,” said Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City.

The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy — formed by former Gov. Jon Huntsman to find ways to improve voter turnout — made Election Day registration a top priority, but the idea has floundered for five years since it was recommended. Utah law now requires voters to register 30 days before an election.

Utah voter turnout is among the nation’s lowest. In 2010, 36.2 percent of Utah’s voting-eligible population cast ballots — ranking No. 49 among the 50 states. In 2012 when favorite-son Mitt Romney was running for president, that rose to 55.4 percent — but still ranked only No. 38, and was still below the national average of 58.2 percent.

Chavez-Houck said states with Election Day registration tend to increase turnout by 5 to 7 percentage points. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

ldavidson@sltrib.com