Same-Day Voter Registration Pilot Program Off to Slow But Positive Start

voteA pilot project that is gaging the viability of statewide same-day voter registration appears to be off to a slow, yet productive, start.

Justin Lee, Deputy Director of Elections in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, was on hand Wednesday to update the Government Relations Interim Committee on the program

Four counties are taking part in the program: Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Kane; and a total of 84 people took advantage of same-day voter registration during the June primary.

Though proposed in almost every legislative session for years, the idea of same-day voter registration has been a difficult pill to swallow for lawmakers. The idea gained greater traction in 2008, when the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy suggested doing away with the requirement that voters’ registration must be postmarked at least 30 days before an election, and allowing them to signup and vote in person on election day.

During the 2013 legislative session, Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (Democrat – Salt Lake City) pushed hard to pass her legislation creating statewide same-day voter registration. The bill passed in the House, but got held up on the final night of the session in the Senate after several Senators expressed concern over voter fraud, claiming that some voters would drive across town from polling station to polling station to try and register to vote more than once. These concerns have been categorically debunked by national statistics.

During the 2014 legislative session, Chavez-Houck was successful in passing legislation creating the pilot program. All four counties were willing participants, while other counties opted out—citing concerns about logistics. Chavez-Houck and co-sponsors of the legislation that typically the much of the most interesting moments of a campaign, such as debates, commercials, door-knocking, and higher frequency mail ads, all occur in the last days of a campaign. And voters who are inspired to vote thanks to those moments are being excluded from their constitutional right to vote.

The pilot program is expected to expire in 2017.

One interesting takeaway from the project, so far, is the number of senior citizens who took advantage of the same-day voter registration in the June primary.

“There was a higher number in this small sample size of individuals over the age of 60 that registered to vote for the first time than we had anticipated. Many of us had assumed we were trying to get a lot of the younger demographic and the students with this,” Lee said. The finding ran counter to the idea that the legislation would only benefit college students and young professionals who are generally more mobile.

Lee noted that the Lieutenant Governor’s Office will have much more information to work with after the general election in November. Since voter turnout was generally low across the state, 84 participants is too small of a sample size to give a full picture of how successful the pilot may be. The LG’s office informed the committee that the independent Pew Center will collect and analyze data as part of their national effort to find ways to increase voter participation.

Lee says that some municipalities, including the small town of Smithfield in Cache County, have expressed an interest in participating in the project next year.

Commenting on the implementation of the program, Director of Elections for Salt Lake County Roseanne Mitchell called the transition “seamless.”

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