Planning to vote in the primary election? How a new Utah law impacts party affiliation

Mar 17, 2022, 7:09 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2022, 11:42 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY – In a 50-second video posted to TikTok this month, Rosemary Card pushed back on criticism she’s received over the content of some of her recent posts.

“People just want a say in who their leaders are,” she said, speaking directly to the camera.

The video is one of several she’s posted on her social media platforms in recent days encouraging Utah voters of all different political beliefs to register as Republicans.

“The general message I’m trying to share is that over the past 50 years, our senator has been chosen in the Republican primary,” Card told KSL. “No matter what we identify as ideologically, our voices matter, and we all want a say in who our representation is.”

In Utah, party rules require you register as a Republican in order to vote in the GOP primary election. And anyone who wants to switch party affiliations to do that, has an earlier deadline this year, thanks to a new law.

“The intent and purpose behind our process is that the members of the party get to pick their best representative,” said Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan.

In 2021, Teuscher sponsored HB197, aimed at stopping what he calls “gamesmanship” or “party raiding.” He points to overt calls on social media, like Card’s, for people to register with the Republican party.

“Anecdotally, we’ve seen people on Twitter, and they make a case to say, ‘Well, you know, I’m a double agent, I’m registering as a Republican even though I don’t care for any of their values or principles,’” he said. “They’re really missing the point of the whole election when they do that.”

During even-numbered years, the new law imposes a deadline of March 31 for any Utah voter who is affiliated with a party and looking to switch in advance of the primary election.

Voters who change their registration after March 31 will not see the change go into effect until after the primary election. The new deadline does not apply to unaffiliated voters, who can decide to affiliate with a party as late as the day of the primary election.

“If you have people coming in who don’t believe in those same values, that don’t ascribe to the party platform or beliefs, to come in and pick who the nominee of that party is, that really undermines the process,” Teuscher said.

In 2020, Utah’s Republican party saw a surge of 97,382 registrations in the six months leading up to the primary election, according to a study from the Electoral Innovation Lab at Princeton University.

However, researchers found “growth in Republican registration in the 2020 primary was driven by new registrations and re-registration by unaffiliated voters, with little crossover registration from Democrats into the Republican party.”

The study also analyzed voters’ post-primary behavior, noting that after voting that day, only 4,309 voters changed their registration. Of those, 2,509 people re-registered as Democrats, 1,495 switched back to an unaffiliated registration, and 305 affiliated with a third party.

“The contention that Democratic voters tried to ‘game’ the system by switching parties to vote in the 2020 Republican primary is not supported by the data from the Utah Election Board,” the research concluded.

But Teuscher isn’t convinced.

“That idea that, ‘Oh, we’re not seeing a lot switch back, so it doesn’t mean, it means that a lot of people aren’t actually infiltrating the party,’ just isn’t the case,” he said. “I think we have a number of people [who] have registered as Republicans, don’t care at all for the Republican Party, and are just staying there because they want to influence the outcome of the primary election.”

Salt Lake County Deputy Clerk Lannie Chapman says she did notice quite a few people changing their affiliation before the 2020 primary election, but so far this year, that hasn’t been the case.

“It just depends on the primary and who’s on the ballot,” she said.

Data provided to the KSL Investigators this week shows there’s only been a 1% increase in registrations for the Republican party in Salt Lake County since the last election was certified in November 2021.

Teuscher told KSL he’s asked the Lt. Governor’s Office to compile a report after March 31 showing how many voters switched to the Republican party.

Card has received messages from people falsely calling her efforts “voter fraud,” and alleging she’s encouraging dishonest, unethical voter behavior.

In response to those concerns, Card points to Gov. Spencer Cox’s statements following the Utah Legislature’s decision to ignore an independent commission’s congressional redistricting maps and adopt their own – a move that drew harsh criticism and accusations of gerrymandering.

Cox told Utahns, “I understand the frustration that people are feeling right now, and the place that that should be directed is making sure that we elect people that have the same interests that you do and are interested in maybe changing those maps the next time around.”

“These are the rules that the Republican Party has outlined,” Card said. “And people are simply following the rules.”

There’s no limit to how many times Utah voters can change their party affiliation.

“Just because something’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right,” said Teuscher.

Card told KSL she intends to continue encouraging Utahns to participate in the Republican primary election.

“Just because you don’t like it, it doesn’t make it wrong,” she said.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Planning to vote in the primary election? How a new Utah law impacts party affiliation