SALT LAKE CITY -- The controversial practice will continue.
Voters in Utah who are registered as unaffiliated will be able to register and vote in a party primary on the same day, despite criticism of the concept from prominent leaders on both side of the aisle.
The Senate voted 23-6 on Friday to remove the sunset clause from the practice involving unaffiliated voters that started 10 years ago. The bill will now advance to the governor's desk. If signed, the practice will no longer be subject to review after a set period of time.
HB 262 is especially important for Republicans who have a closed primary and only allow registered party members to vote in their primary. The Democratic Party primaries in the Beehive State are open to all voters.
Even though it passed, bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, found himself on the defensive most of the debate.
Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said government should not be required to pay for an election when a primary is closed.
"All primaries operated by government should be open. If we're doing business as a party, maybe that party should pay for that," Davis argued.
Some lawmakers allege the practice of being able to affiliate with a party on the day of a primary can lead to election shenanigans. Weiler said that can still occur in the primary, even without the rule, only it would require people who are unaffiliated to register at least 30 days before the election.
Weiler claims thousands of people who have Republican leanings benefit from the practice, even though they are shown as unaffiliated on voter registration rolls.
The founder of the Utah Taxpayers Association, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, doesn't think the Legislature should have any say in how political parties conduct their primary election process.
"Political parties should not be subject to legislative intervention. To have the Legislature decide who can and who cannot (vote) I think is just wrong. We basically have this experiment. I don't think it should continue," Stephenson said.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, doesn't like the practice for a different reason. She thinks voters should align themselves with a party and not be allowed to change that affiliation the day of a primary. She said it was "uncomfortably inappropriate" that the state was removing the sunset clause and making the practice permanent.
Weiler said the bill ensures the status quo as far as election practice and argued the government has a role in all elections to ensure they are conducted fairly.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, was one of the senators to vote against extending the practice. He argued the state should have no hand in what independent political parties do.