Despite continuing concerns that it may violate the national Voting Rights Act, the Utah House approved a bill Friday that could remove voters from registration rolls if they fail to vote in several consecutive elections.
It voted 46-27 for HB253 and sent it to the Senate.
The Voting Rights Act bans removing voters from registration rolls merely for not voting. Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, sponsor of HB253, said his original version indeed may have violated that law, but he amended it in a way that he says now solves problems.
Under the amendment, if residents do not vote in two consecutive elections, a county clerk will send them a letter asking them to verify their address. If the U.S. Postal Service sends a mailing back, saying it was undeliverable because of a bad address, clerks will send a second letter.
The second will notify the voters that if they fail to vote in one of the next two general elections, their names will be removed from the rolls. Powell said the trigger for the removal is notification by the post office of a bad address, not a failure to vote so he says the bill passes legal muster.
But Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan, isn't sold.
"This criteria we're setting today says you either vote or you can't be a registered voter," Webb said. "A registered voter should have a choice either to vote or not to vote."
Powell replied that voters are being removed for not living at their reported address.
He said he is pursuing the bill to help clean up voter rolls. He said sometimes voter turnout appears artificially low if it is figured as a percentage of registered voters if many of those voters do not actually exist.
A study by George Mason University found that only 32.2 percent of Utahns of voting age who were qualified citizens voted in the last general election, tying with Texas for second-worst among the states, just barely behind New York.