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Federal law prohibits removing voters from registration rolls for failing to vote. But Republicans on Wednesday endorsed a possible end run around that one that Democrats, the ACLU and some good-government groups protested as illegal and likely to lower voter turnout.
The House Political Subdivisions Committee endorsed HB253 on a 6-4 vote, mostly along party lines, and sent it to the full House. It would allow removing voters from rolls if they miss four consecutive general elections and fail to respond to a notice mailed to them after the second missed election.
So if they didn't vote in 2010 and 2012, they would be sent a notice asking them to vote or contact the county clerk. If they still failed to vote in 2014 and 2016 and did not respond to the notice, their names would be removed.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said the bill complies with federal law because removal technically would be based on failure to respond to the notice rather than failure to vote. He said it would help remove names of people who have moved or died. Leaving them on rolls yields voter turnout numbers that are artificially low when figured as a percentage of registered voters, he argued.
But ACLU attorney Marina Lowe said the Legislature can't do what's being proposed not legally.
"It runs afoul of the National Voting Rights Act," she said. "We should be doing everything we can to encourage people to vote, instead of erecting barriers."
AARP and Represent Me Utah also opposed the bill, as did committee Democrats.
"This says if you don't vote, we're going to take you off the rolls. I don't think we can do that," said Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City.