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Why I voted against HB 91, Same Day Voter Registration

March 16, 2013

HB 91 would have allowed “election-day registration”, whereby a potential voter could show up at the polls, show proof of identity and residency/address, and then be allowed to vote even if not previously registered in Utah as was required in the past.

This was a hard vote for me because I want to encourage more voter participation, but my local clerks who are directly involved in voting asked me to not support the bill. The only organizations I saw pushing the bill were the ACLU and the Democrats.

I wonder if these Senators can see the issues more clearly with binoculars?

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The biggest reason for concern is that the number of Provisional Ballots would likely skyrocket resulting in more work and more expenses. Also, it could have created a potential for multiple-votes from the same individual.

A lot more work was created when provisional balloting was first introduced, but at least it resolved most of the problems associated with challenging voters (because they did not appear to be properly registered), completing all the paperwork for the challenges, having the contention of angry voters at the polls, etc. However, provisional ballots came with a cost, as they have to be manually checked for validity.

They require a listing of all provisional voters (or at least the ID number given to maintain privacy) be posted. We also post whether the ballot was legitimate, and/or the reason why not it determined to be not valid.

All that manual processing takes a lot of time and a lot more workers. Also, provisional ballots slow things down at the polls because those voters must be processed a little differently (as they don’t show up in the registered voter database and therefore must provide proof of identity and residency as noted above). Their ballot is then segregated from others and not counted until judged to be valid.

One Utah County election official estimated they have approximately 70,000 new voters register every year (due to those turning 18 years of age, move-ins, etc). If they were forced tk allow “same day” voting, they feared their costs could increase as much as $250,000 per election.

It may be possible that multiple votes from the same individual will be cast. If we allow someone to register and vote the same day at the polls, where is the safeguard that keeps them from voting at multiple locations?

In the past, individuals had to go to their specific location for their precinct’s polling in order to vote. If they went to any other polling site, they were redirected to their assigned location. That way election officials could be sure they were registered and only voted once per election.

This created more complaints than any other component of elections because citizens would often become irate when they showed up at the wrong polling site and were informed they had to go to some other location to vote. With the advent of provisional voting and electronic voting, polling places became “Vote Centers” allowing people to vote at any approved voting location within their jurisdiction.

New technology allowed election officials to electronically and remotely verify that people are registered somewhere in the state. Once they voted “provisionally” at one of the vote centers, a notation was made in the data base indicating they had voted.

However, if we change the law to allow people to prove identity and residency to vote on election day, then it would be hard to prevent someone from visiting more than one Vote Centers in and casting multiple votes? They would not yet be entered in the database at that point because they had just proved ID and residency.

There would be no way to flag people as having voted. Implementing new security measures into our provisional balloting procedures and software would require complex programming which translates again into more time and more money. Also, it would require great care on the part of election judges to be sure the name of every voter is entered into the system consistently so that tiny variations would not occur, allowing the opportunity to cast multiple votes that would not be caught by screening programs.

The Davis County Clerk shared thses issues with me:

1. Same day registration will limit the county’s ability as Election Administrators to project the turnout for an election and make adjustments to provide services to the voters. In 2012, Davis County had over 5,000 citizens register in the last two weeks of the registration period. They were able to use this information and prepare an additional 45 voting machines to deliver to the polling location where they needed them on Election Day, thus eliminating long lines.

2. Same day registration would limit the ability of elected officials from contacting their constituents. Voter registration records are used by many candidates, political parties, and elected officials to gather opinions and support on important issues and campaigns. From October 1 to October 22, 2012, Davis County had 12,255 citizens register to vote, the contact information for these voters would not be available until after the election if they chose to register on election day.

3. HB91 is very specific that it only allows a person to do same day registration on Election Day. Nearly a third of our voters vote early, which means that we might have turn these individuals away to come back on Election Day. In another reading of the bill, we could have allowed them to vote knowing they should not count their ballot because they are not eligible to vote early.

4. HB91 does not address how to handle same day registration voters during a closed primary election. Election code says any registered voter classified as unaffiliated may affiliate with a political party and then vote that party’s ballot. This part of the law could have been interpreted as the person had to be registered prior to the election or it could be interpreted as anyone who meets the registration requirements.

As you can see, there were a lot of unanswered questions about this bill as the session was winding down.

Here are some of the great people who support us in the Senate:

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2 Comments
  1. You’ve always struck me as someone who looks at the relevant data and tries to make an informed decision. Your vote on this bill reinforces that observation.

    In 1994 Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act. At the time, the bill promised to increase voter registrations and therefore voter participation. Granted, there was the idea that it would increase confidence in the ballot and improve the integrity of the election…but that’s another story.

    Looking back at the legislation, now nearly 20 years later, the bill may have had some success in increased registrations; however, we have not realized the increased participation. In that regard, the bill was a failure.

    If you look at Utah’s efforts to increase voter participation and the studies done on the subject there is nothing that suggests we’ve had success. We’ve gone from having the highest participation in 1968 to the second lowest today.

    The state has studied the issue. They’ve simply elected not to pay attention to the results of those studies.

  2. Jeff permalink

    Disclaimer: I am a Democrat and ACLU member. I also am your constituent.
    First, thank you for addressing this issue in such a thorough manner.

    I don’t think those who voted ‘no’ on this bill or the clerks who opposed it took a proactive approach to the issue of increasing participation and allowing those who are otherwise eligible to register and vote on election day.

    For example, when we think of all the ways voter fraud could be committed (they’re usually caught and prosecuted when it happens…which is about as likely to happen as a UFO sightings, because it’s an enforceable law that at least cancels any duplicate ballot and at most [and hopefully] prosecutes those who break it), rather than say ‘we can’t do that because of potential abuse’, we should say, ‘voter participation is so important that we should FIND a way to prevent and catch abuse when and if it happens’.

    How often does voter fraud occur in jurisdictions where same-day registration is allowed? They’d be a great sources of guidance so we can avoid it here. And the clerks where it’s allowed, did clerks in opposition here look to see how they can deal with same-day registration w/o incurring more work or costs?

    Looking elsewhere for best practices is policymaking 101. I dont’ want to take evidence of absence as absence of evidence, but nowhere in this explanation do I see any reference to other states/counties. Just hypothetical problems without accompanying hypothetical remedies.

    It’s nice that clerks are concerned with costs, but there’s a difference between finding efficiencies and doing that with which your office is charged. More work? Well, that comes with population growth and greater participation rates without same-day registration. Also, it’s not as though they don’t waste a great deal of time disqualifying provisionals as it is.

    I believe there would be more qualified ballots if same-day registration were allowed, which would mean that less of their work is wasted, as it were. Certainly we should find ways to get more people registered before election day so clerks can avoid having to process these ballots manually.

    It’s a matter of priorities, really. And with all due respect, Senator, I do not believe that increasing participation was your highest because if it were, I think you are quite able of finding a solution if you so desired.

    I hope you take a more proactive approach next time same-day voter registration comes up for a vote.

    Thank you for taking the time to consider my thoughts, and for providing this forum.

    Jeff Dixon
    84010

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