That happened Monday afternoon, when state Republican Party officials backed a bill that removes the July 1, 2013 sunset of a law that allows properly-registered independent voters to sign up to be Republicans on primary election day and cast a GOP ballot.
Utah Republicans hold closed primaries. You have to be a registered Republican to get a GOP ballot.
For 10 years state law says an unaffiliated voter (an independent who isn’t registered in any political party) can sign a party registration form at the primary polling place and vote in that party’s primary.
Since only Utah Republicans hold closed primaries, the party registration on primary day only applies to them. Without the law, an independent voter would have to sign up to be a Republican 30 days before the primary election, and many likely wouldn’t remember to do so.
Around 55 percent of all registered voters in Utah are officially unaffiliated – the largest bloc of voters in the state.
If the sunset date wasn’t changed, come the 2014 June primary, a lot of voters who came to the polling place planning on voting in the GOP primary would be disappointed.
And who would they take it out on? GOP candidates in the upcoming November general election, most likely.
At least that’s what legislative Republicans are thinking.
And so Monday, the House Government Operations Committee passed out unanimously a bill by freshman Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley, that removes forever the sunset date on same-day unaffiliated voter party registration.
If the sunset date wasn’t removed, and voters turned up in 2014 at the primary polling place expecting to cast a GOP ballot, you would see “a real reaction” against Republicans and their closed primary, said Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber.
“Making it easier to vote is always a good thing,” he added.
I recall when the original same-day primary party registration was first adopted in 2003, there were a number of GOP lawmakers who didn’t like it.
They believed same-day party registration could mean some left-leaning independents would come into the closed Republican Party primary and vote for the more moderate Republican – thus hurting the chances of right-wingers of winning the nomination.
When the same-day sunset date came up five years later in 2008, it was a noted moderate GOP House member who carried the bill to extend it for five more years.
It passed, but not by big margins.
Now it seems Republicans are on board.
Hall noted that 55 percent of voters in his West Valley district are unaffiliated. And many of those folks wouldn’t be able to vote for him in 2014 – and could be plenty angry on primary election day – should he be challenged within his own party.
“We are a big tent,” said state GOP executive director Ivan Dubois. “And we love to have them” – newly registered Republicans.
Finally, oft times a slip of the tongue can say so much.
In pointing out that the Utah Republican Party endorses his bill, Hall said it had the support of “the Utah Political Party.”
Yes, when talking about the Legislature, there really is only one party that matters, isn’t there?