This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Alternative facts" are likely to kill a voter access program currently on the chopping block in the Utah House. Incidentally, the party that's pushing back against this legislation has more to lose.
For the past three years, Utah has piloted an option for counties to offer Election Day voter registration. In order to vote, Election Day registrants cast a provisional ballot, but only after showing identification. Once the clerks validate the eligibility of a voter, they count the ballot.
In 2014, five counties participated: Kane, Sanpete, Davis, Weber and Salt Lake. In 2015, some 57 municipalities participated and the program was expanded to use during early voting. In 2016, three more counties joined the original five: San Juan, Cache and Millard. The goal of the three-year term was for the clerks to offer the program during three types of elections municipal, midterm and presidential.
The years 2014 and 2015 saw no major concerns. Complications of the 2016 elections have led many in Utah's GOP leadership to attribute the large lines that overwhelmed some county polling places to Election Day registration. The thing is, for most of the pilot counties, the numbers prove otherwise:
In four of the counties that participated all three years, the number of provisional ballots dropped markedly. From 2012 to 2016 there was a drop of 46 percent in Salt Lake County, 49 percent in Davis, 42 percent in Weber and 43 percent in Sanpete.
For counties that participated in 2016, the vast majority of provisional ballots cast were not Election Day registration ballots. Not by a long shot. Even for Cache County, which had a large provisional ballot count of 3,825 in 2016 (compared with 693 in 2012), only 922 were Election Day registrants.
GOP leaders also refuse to acknowledge that more GOP Election Day ballots were cast than Democratic ballots in pilot counties, with the exception of those cast in Salt Lake County. Notably, more unaffiliated voters took advantage of Election Day registration in total. Urban myths of vans of Democrats potentially being deposited at Election Day voting sites have just not been borne out.
Considering many Republicans waited till late in the game to cast their 2016 ballots (and traditionally do so more than Democrats), GOP voters likely benefited more due to the pilot program. And, given potential pushback to the GOP in 2018 midterms because of the extreme nature of our new presidential administration, Utah's EDR law might be just what the GOP needs going forward.
Lines existed across the state. Utah County experienced dramatic lines on Election Day and has never participated in Election Day registration. Lines will diminish if legislation providing automatic voter registration, expanding early voting to the day before Election Day and allowing clerks to open more polls later in the elections process all pass. We need to do all we can to encourage voters to participate, including solving the problem of lines, but eradication of a program that expands voter registration is not the solution.
We'll let the numbers speak for themselves. Real facts, not alternative ones.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored Utah's three-year Election Day voter registration pilot program and is sponsoring 2017 legislation to extend the pilot project for two more years.