Most politicians want to "get out the vote." Utah lawmakers, if they approve a trio of misguided measures making their way through the Legislature, will do the opposite.
House Bill 126, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, would require that voters present identification at their polling places before being allowed to vote. Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, would require first-time Utah voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering. And House Bill 390, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, would prohibit casting absentee ballots in the final three days before elections.
Each of these bills attempts to solve a problem that doesn't seem to exist in Utah -- fraudulent voting. Daw can't cite a single case. Instead, the proposed laws would contribute to a very real and verifiable problem -- low voter turnout.
In the 2006 general election, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study, Utah had the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Only 36.7 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, compared to 47.8 percent nationwide.
And we didn't show much improvement last year. Despite general election ballots packed with presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative races, only 53.8 percent of eligible adults cast a ballot, one of the five lowest turnouts in the nation. And in the primary election, turnout was reported at a dismal 7.97 percent of registered voters, the lowest on record in the state.
There are already safeguards in place to prevent fraudulent voting. For example, when registering to vote individuals must present a Utah driver license or submit the final four digits of their Social Security number, which are verified. Poll workers can ask for ID if fraud is suspected. Any voter can challenge the vote of another under existing law. And deceased voters are purged from databases. Plus, voting illegally is a felony, and nobody is going to risk a prison sentence, a four-figure fine and a criminal record just to vote.
Rather than solving problems, the proposed laws would create them by inconveniencing voters, driving down turnouts and increasing the cost of conducting elections.
Voters who forget their IDs would be forced to cast provisional ballots and later return to the county clerk's office with identification for their votes to count. And would-be voters who are called away in the final days before an election would be disenfranchised if they can't cast absentee ballots.
Lawmakers need to clear the way for voters to participate in elections, not put obstacles in their paths.