Crackdown on party switchers slows the flow of non-Republican voters joining the Utah GOP

Lawmakers moved up the deadline for voters to switch parties to vote in primary elections.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan sponsored a 2021 bill moving up the deadline for voters to switch parties ahead of the primary election.

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The term “party raiding” might conjure up images of debauchery on college campuses, most famously immortalized in the 1978 film “Animal House.” In reality, party raiding is a form of political mischief where voters switch their registrations to the opposite political party to impact party nominations or primary elections.

The phenomenon played a significant role in the 2020 Utah Republican gubernatorial primary, which Spencer Cox won by a narrow margin. Ahead of that election, about 100,000 Utah voters, mostly unaffiliated, changed their registration to the GOP. This year, there were dramatically fewer changes in voter registration status, despite an effort to convince Utah Democrats to register as Republicans to boost Becky Edwards or Ally Isom’s chances of defeating incumbent Mike Lee in the U.S. Senate race. Republican primary elections are closed affairs, meaning only registered Republicans can cast a ballot.

According to voter registration numbers from the Utah Elections Office, the number of registered Republicans increased by a little more than 24,000 in the first three months of 2022. That includes about 10,500 new voters who registered or re-registered during that time. The only political groups that lost registrations from January to March were Democrats and independent voters. Registered Democrats dropped by about 6,600 while independent voters dropped by nearly 8,900.

That’s a far cry from the 2020 GOP gubernatorial primary, which saw about 100,000 voters switch affiliation to the GOP between January and June. But those were primarily independent voters who became Republicans rather than Democrats hoping to meddle in the outcome, according to an analysis from Princeton University.

That effort rankled Republican lawmakers who didn’t appreciate the attempt to skew GOP election results. In 2021, they gave the thumbs-up to HB197 from Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, which cut Utah voters’ time to change party affiliation from right before the June primary election to March 31. Teuscher says the smaller number of switchers shows the earlier deadline discourages electoral shenanigans.

“Though there continues to be more overt and louder calls from certain individuals and groups encouraging Democrats to change their party affiliation, these initial numbers show the switching deadline is working to limit the number of party raiders,” Teuscher said. An analysis of party switchers by Teuscher and shared with The Salt Lake Tribune concludes since January 2020, just over 39,000 Democrats switched registration to the Republican party without changing back. More than 134,000 independent voters also became Republicans during the same period.

Teuscher says he likes to think those new Republicans stay because they believe in what the party stands for rather than a cynical view of the political process.

“Efforts to urge individuals to ‘hold their nose’ and disingenuously switch parties to game the system and change the outcome of a party’s primary election is unethical, wrong, and undermines our electoral system,” Teuscher says.

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