A new report from the Electoral Innovation Lab at Princeton University has found that very few Democrats changed their party registration to vote in the Utah Republican primary in 2020. House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher (R-South Jordan), is moving through the Utah state legislature, having recently narrowly passed the House. The bill is an attempt to prevent voters from changing party registration within approximately 80 days of the primary election. The bill’s sponsors have argued that a “significant number” of Democratic Party voters “raided” the Republican primary in 2020.
An analysis of Utah voter registration rolls by the Electoral Innovation Lab at Princeton University shows such arguments are not based on actual data. Key findings include: Growth in Republican registration was driven by new voters and such growth was historically common. The rate of re-registration observed before the 2020 Utah primary is similar to what occurred in the 2016 Utah GOP caucus. In both cases, these competitive events were preceded by a surge in the registration of Republican voters.
Most voters re-registering with the Republican party were unaffiliated voters, not Democrats. Between January 2020 and the June primary, Republican registrations grew by 97,382, a 14.3% increase.
Unaffiliated voters decreased by almost two-thirds this number (60,878). Democratic registrations increased for most of the year, decreasing modestly in the three weeks preceding the primary by just 7,796.
The vast majority of voters who re-registered have stayed with the Party after the primary and have not re-registered back. After the primary, when 427,739 people voted, 2,509 people later re-registered as Democrats, 1,495 reregistered as unaffiliated, and 305 re-registered with a third party.
The assertion that Democratic voters tried to “game” the system by switching parties is simply not supported by data.
According to Open Primaries Education Fund President John Opdycke, “HB 197 is based upon the bogeyman of ‘party raiding’ which is not grounded in fact. The current voter registration system allows Utah voters the freedom to join a party during the primary season and vote. While other states are exploring ways to make it easier and less party controlled to vote in primaries, Rep. Teuscher wants to make it more difficult. Why? Politics pure and simple. I hope the Senate and the Governor realize that restricting voter mobility and voter choice based on poor evidence is bad for Utah, a state with a history of innovation and reforms.”
Randy Miller of the Utah League of Independent Voters stated “we need to be moving forward, not backwards, when it comes to elections and democracy in Utah, and HB 197 is a step backwards. 35% of Utah voters are independents, and politicians should find ways to include us and listen to us, not lock us out.” ULIV co-founder PJ Steiner added, “plus, the primary elections are funded by the taxpayers, and Utahns should be able to vote in any publicly funded election without the kinds of deadlines and restrictions contemplated by HB 197. We hope the Senate rejects this bill.