Clerks kill Election Day voter registration
Voting • Salt Lake County supported change, but most counties opposed it.
Published: March 14, 2013 11:30PM
Updated: March 18, 2013 11:15AM
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Chris Detrick | Tribune file p hoto Residents vote early at the Salt Lake County Government Center.

A bill to allow Election Day voter registration died Thursday — ironically killed by election officials who worried that it could work too well, and cause them too much work, in a state that has among the worst voter turnout in the nation.

HB91 died on a 10-18 vote in the Senate, after earlier passing the House 58-14.

Most of the opposition cited was from county clerks who said it could create more work than they could now handle between when votes are cast and when counts must be finalized.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, Senate sponsor of the bill, tried to overcome that by amending the bill to delay enactment for two years to give clerks time to prepare. Another amendment was added to sunset the bill after another two years — unless lawmakers decided it worked well enough to extend.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, has noted that 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.

“What this bill does is allow the vote to be counted,” Jenkins said. “This allows you to register and vote on same day if you prove your residency and identity.”

The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office reported it discarded 2,600 provisional ballots last year from same-day registrants, and Davis County reported discarding 1,275. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s office supported same-day registration, but most clerks in smaller counties opposed it.

In the past, the bill was opposed more out of concerns about voter fraud or that it would not require enough effort by voter to ensure that only the truly informed vote. Those arguments were mentioned in debate this year, but most concern focused on complaints from county clerks.

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 foundered for five years since it was recommended.

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.