Utah GOP voter registrations up, Democrats and other parties down for primary

Bradford Mosteller cuts “I Voted” stickers on the first day of early voting at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office in the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

New numbers suggest voters switching parties to participate in closed election

SALT LAKE CITY — While there’s no official count of how many Utah voters switched their party affiliation by last Friday’s deadline to vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary election on June 30, newly released numbers appear to make it clear that’s happening.

“We can’t definitively say how many people are switching. I mean, there’s no question, just looking at the numbers this morning … every single party has lost active voters since the first of May except the Republican Party,” state Elections Director Justin Lee said. “I think there’s certainly some credibility to the idea that people are switching.”

Since April, the number of active registered Republican voters in the state has jumped by nearly 74,000, while the number of Democrats has dropped by nearly 9,800, and the number of unaffiliated voters is down by more than 43,600. During the same time period, the number of active voters in the state has gone up by just over 19,300.


The numbers released Monday are expected to be updated again Wednesday, Lee said, as county clerks continue to process voter registration changes made before the deadline Friday.

After the primary, Lee said he expects to take a closer look at crossover voting, including how many Republicans change their affiliation post-election. But he said a quick look at voter registrations in 2016 showed the state “didn’t have anything near these numbers in terms of new registrants or changes in party affiliation.”

Utahns “are certainly paying attention to this election,” Lee said. Especially the four-way race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination between Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright.

Jim Dabakis, the former chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, made headlines recently by saying he’d registered as a Republican so he could vote in the primary that he believes will in effect choose the state’s next governor, since it’s been 40 years since a Democrat won that office.

Huntsman’s campaign ran advertising encouraging voters to meet the June 19 deadline to register as Republican in order to vote in the primary, closed by the party to non-members of the GOP, including unaffiliated voters. Unaffiliated voters in counties with drive-up Election Day voting can still choose then to affiliate as Republicans.

Others in the GOP aren’t happy to see new members who don’t share their beliefs. Hughes, seen as a target of the effort because of his conservative views, has been especially vocal, saying recently that “tactics to manipulate elections from people that do not see themselves as Republicans are akin to voter fraud.”

Huntsman’s campaign manager, Lisa Roskelley, said Monday, “we’re encouraged that people want to participate.”

She said the campaign’s intent was to ensure those who intend to vote for a Republican in November also were able to cast a primary ballot. “Our focus was on those that typically vote for a Republican,” she said. “Their mindset is generally aligned with the values of the party.”

Lisa Riley Roche

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