SALT LAKE CITY — A bill making it possible to register and vote in Utah on the day of an election has been forwarded to the House for further review.
HB 91 changes the way provisional ballots would be handled for those who have never before registered to vote in Utah and opens the door for voters to register and vote on Election Day.
Bill sponsor Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said these provisional ballots would only be counted once the voters were determined to be eligible. Utah has one of the lowest percentages of voter turnouts in the U.S., the representative says.
“What I am proposing is that we move the line and allow a broader spectrum of individuals to vote,” Chavez-Houck said.
Under existing state law, a resident who has not registered to vote is given a provisional ballot, if they show up at the polls on Election Day. The provisional ballot serves as a registration mechanism, but is not counted among final election results.
One Top of Utah election official sees a different result from the bill.
Davis County Election Clerk Pat Beckstead said Idaho passed a similar measure last year, and she said election results from the Gem State show people delaying registration as a result, with late registration trending about 15 percent.
Beckstead estimated that, if 15 percent of voters were to use the late registration option in Davis County, it would amount to almost 18,000 people showing up to register on Election Day. She said her staff struggled to handle 7,500 provisional ballots during the last election, and she thinks the added number would jeopardize election safeguards.
“I think it’s something we should study. I don’t think this is the time,” Beckstead said.
Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette estimated it would cost her county an extra $12,500 a year. Costs for bigger counties, like Davis and Weber, have been estimated at $24,500.
Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley, thinks the state needs to do everything it can to engage more people in the voting process.
“Yes, it may be more work for the county clerks, but OK, let’s get them registered, let’s get the voting,” Fisher said.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said the way provisional ballots are handled now is punishment to people who haven’t taken the time to register. He supported the legislation, saying it facilitates getting more people to the polls.
The bill passed on a 6-2 vote.