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Bill makes voting easier

by Jay Hamburger, OF THE RECORD STAFF

Forgot to register to vote before Election Day?

‘No problem’ is what a state legislator hopes poll workers say in such situations.

Rep. Neil Hansen, an Ogden Democrat, is sponsoring House Bill 347, which would allow voters to register the day of an election.

Current state law requires that people register to vote at least eight days before an election. County clerks and city elections officers hold what is known as satellite registration, held at places like city halls, eight and eleven days before an election. They are held on a Friday and a Monday.

eliminating the pre-election registration requirements, supporters hope that more people will go to the voting booths.

Local turnout is typically lethargic in elections during odd-numbered years, when mayors and city councilors are on the ballot. And, though turnout is better in even-numbered years, when county, state and federal offices are on the ballot, the numbers are not stellar.

Last year, when Park City Mayor Dana Williams was unopposed as he won a second term and incumbent Jim Hier and challenger Roger Harlan won City Council seats, turnout dipped to 10.73 percent.

Officials worry about turnout but, other than pre-election get-out-the-vote publicity, there has been little effort to increase the number of people who vote.

Williams supports the Hansen bill but City Hall does not list the bill as one of the pieces of legislation it is monitoring.

Williams said the bill, if it passes and is signed into law, could potentially boost voter turnout, but just slightly. Williams said he would be surprised if more than another 5 percent of people vote if the bill passes. He calls the legislation a "great idea."

"It’s giving people more options and more opportunities to vote if they choose to do so," Williams said.

In 2005, just 565 of the 5,268 registered voters in Park City went to the polls. Turnout ranged from 14.1 percent in the Prospector, Sidewinder and Thaynes Canyon precincts to 8.78 percent in Old Town and Deer Valley.

The bill is currently in the House Rules Committee and a vote of the full House of Representatives is not scheduled. The House Government Operations Committee on Feb. 14 recommended in favor of the legislation on a 5-3 vote. Neither of Summit County’s members of the House is on the committee.

State attorneys have determined that there is not a high probability that the legislation would be found unconstitutional.

But the state’s fiscal analyst has noted that counties may be hurt financially if the bill passes. There are concerns that some county clerks do not have the equipment needed to register people to vote at the polling places.

The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst indicated that the financial impact would especially be on "smaller counties which may currently lack adequate information technologies and systems to meet the requirements of the bill."

The expense is one of the concerns of Summit County Clerk Sue Follett, the county’s elections officer. She opposes the legislation as it is currently written. She said more election judges would be needed to register people to vote and computer hookups would be necessary at polling places.

Follett also is concerned that people would show up at the polls hoping to register to vote but without the necessary identification in hand.

"They’re not always going to have the documentation there," Follett said, predicting it would be "cumbersome" to register people at the polling places.

She also worries about who she describes as "devious" people, who would register and vote in several places on the same day.

"There could be a high incident of voter fraud," Follett said.

She does not agree that more people would vote if they were allowed to register on Election Day. If someone is not registered by the day of an election, Follett questions whether they would go to the polls if they were able to register then.

"They put it off, put it off, put it off," she said.

And Williams, although a supporter, said allowing Election Day registration will not work as well as a hot campaign.

"Nothing helps voter turnout more than angst," Williams said.


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