The undermining of the state’s elections system, the vilification of critical race theory and the introduction of anti-transgender legislation in Utah in recent years are issues troubling to Trevor Warburton, a secondary education professor.
While these values may sound they belong to a Democrat, Warburton is a registered Republican.
Ahead of a looming March 31 deadline, some Democratic and unaffiliated voters like Warburton are switching their party affiliation to participate in the upcoming Republican primary elections. Most voters who use the political tactic say it’s a way to have a say in who makes it on the November ballot in a state where Republicans dominate political races.
By switching his voter registration from an unaffiliated voter, the Springville resident said he wants to have a say in which Republican candidates make it on the November ballot.
Warburton said he’s concerned with how far-right extremist ideals have proliferated the Utah Republican Party and wants to see more moderate candidates on the GOP ticket.
“Seeing the extremism really kind of become mainstream in the Republican Party, especially in Utah, I feel like that doesn’t reflect the views of the majority of Utahns,” he said. “The way the primary system is set up, and the way Republicans have a restricted access to that really ensures that the only Republican candidate is an extremist candidate.”
Party switching, also dubbed “party raiding,” ahead of a Republican primary election isn’t a new tactic.
During the high-profile 2020 gubernatorial Republican primary race, about 100,000 Utah voters, between January and June of that year, switched their party affiliation to Republican, according to a study by Princeton University’s Electoral Innovation Lab. The practice even inspired a law in 2020 that prohibited party-switching three months ahead of a primary election.
In their study, Princeton researchers outlined that two-thirds of voters who registered as Republican ahead of the primary election were previously unaffiliated voters.
Republicans and critics of party switching have accused Democrats of attempting to “game the system.” However, researchers have concluded that the state’s election data in 2020 signified more people were interested in prominent races than “party raiding.”
“The contention that Democratic voters tried to “game” the system by switching parties to vote in the 2020 Republican primary is not supported by the data from the Utah Election Board,” according to researchers. “Any pre-primary growth in the Republican party was driven by newly registered Republicans and formerly unaffiliated voters, not by party-switching Democrats. Therefore, the data suggest that the principal driver of new Republican registrations was interest in competitive political races.”
Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen said “party raiding” isn’t a wide problem on a state level.
“But when you get down to the smaller level it sure can affect it, because some of those races are affected by one, two, three votes,” he said. “They do make a difference.”
“This gaming the system because your party can’t win a race is not is not the way to go about it,” he continued.
The Utah Democratic Party declined to comment on members of their switching political parties ahead of the Republican primary elections.
“The Utah Democratic Party is an open, big-tent party. We welcome all Utahns who share our values and vision, regardless of official party affiliation, to join us in our mission to advance strong, competent leadership that puts the people and democracy first,” according to a statement from Ben Anderson, a communication director for the party.
How the state’s redistricting process fueled voters’ decision
One Salt Lake City woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she works as a state employee, said she changed her party registration from Democrat to Republican earlier this year. She said she would like to help a challenger of Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee win the Republican primary.
Her breaking point was reached after the Utah Legislature discarded redistricting maps recommended by the state’s independent redistricting commission in favor of their own. The state is currently facing a legal battle over the congressional maps drawn by the Legislature.
“I’ve been thinking about changing my registration in the past few election cycles just because it feels like as a Democrat in Utah, it’s pretty hard to have a voice here,” she said. “If they’re willing to go to these extreme lengths to hold on to their power, then maybe it’s time to start taking some more drastic action on our side to try to retain a voice as much as we can.”
Another voter, August Bigelow, a computer software engineer living in Spanish Fork, changed his party registration from Independent to Republican back in 2020. Bigelow, who typically votes for Democratic candidates, said he’s maintained his Republican Party registration so that he can participate in primary elections and doesn’t have plans to change it.
“There’s not a whole lot I can do here politically when it comes to voting,” he said. “I don’t consider me being registered as that as a sign of what I actually believe in politically. I feel fine leaving it as it is.”
Bigelow said he doesn’t feel like he’s taking advantage of the system, especially after the Legislature adopted their own congressional maps, ignoring an independent mapping commission created by voters.
How to switch your party affiliation
This week, Republican Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson reminded Utahns on social media that voters have until March 31 to change their political affiliation.
🚨Deadline for Utah voters🚨— Lt. Gov. Deidre M. Henderson (@LGHendersonUtah) March 22, 2022
If you are currently registered with a political party and want to change your party affiliation before the primary, you have until Thursday, March 31 to make the change. pic.twitter.com/5lOWJyUd1d
To change your party registration, Utahns can visit http://vote.utah.gov to change it by March 31. Utahns can also submit a political party affiliation change form to their local county clerk by 5 p.m. on March 31 or send it via mail by the deadline.
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