Republicans in the Utah Legislature are poised to make a big mistake.
For many years, Utah law has allowed unaffiliated voters to affiliate with a political party on the day of the primary election.
Because the Utah Republican Party closes its primaries to all who are not registered Republicans, this law has promoted participation by unaffiliated voters in the Republican primary as long as they are willing to affiliate as Republicans when they show up on primary election day.
But in its June meeting, the Government Operations Interim Committee, which I co-chair, voted to support a change that will bar unaffiliated voters from registering with a political party less than 30 days prior to an election.
The practical result of this change will be to prohibit unaffiliated voters who show up on primary election day from voting in the Republican primary. I voted against the change, but I was the only Republican to do so.
Why would my fellow Republicans want to make this change?
From my conversations with some of them, they seem to think that any voter who is not registered as a Republican 30 days before the primary is not a real Republican. They don’t want to let these "lukewarm" Republicans have a say in determining the local, state and federal nominees for the Republican Party.
With all due respect, I see the matter quite differently.
During my four years so far in the legislature, I have always started from the premise that I represent all residents of my district, whether they be Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated, or something else. I speak with, meet with, and introduce legislation for my constituents of all political persuasions.
For this reason, I hope to see at every election, including the Republican primary, the largest number of voters possible turn out to vote. That gives me as a representative the best available barometer of public sentiment.
In the 2012 primary election that was just held, a large portion of Summit County residents who voted in the Republican primary were unaffiliated when they showed up to vote. They were able, and willing, to affiliate as Republicans that day in order to cast their ballot in the Republican primary.
These voters are every bit as valuable to the Republican Party as someone who has been registered lifelong as a Republican. I think we should encourage, not discourage, this behavior. But if the committee’s vote stands, this option will be removed beginning with the 2014 primary election.
Therefore, after the committee vote, I directed that a bill be drafted and introduced to the full legislature preserving the option for unaffiliated voters to register with a party on Election Day. The bill will be considered in the 2013 general legislative session.
If the Utah Republican Party wants to gain more public support and acceptance, it needs to invite and welcome unaffiliated voters, not deter and punish them.
I hope my colleagues will soon change course while there is still time to avoid this serious blunder.
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