Special election and party switching, Utah Democrats, Republicans respond

Jun 14, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: 3:12 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislators met on Wednesday in a special session to discuss the special election to fill Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat and one of the topics for discussion is new rules to restrict party switching.

If a Utah voter planned to switch parties in the upcoming primary, the new law would provide a short timeline, or no time at all.

Democratic perspective on special election party switching

A new law would affect those who like to change their party affiliation for Utah elections.

“I’m sure there are a lot of voters across the state who are probably not very happy about it … a lot of people do like to switch their party affiliation to vote in these primaries,” Ben Anderson, communications director at the Utah Democratic Party told KSL Newsradio.

The Utah Democratic Party does not have an official stance on party switching, Anderson said, but they do welcome voters of any registered political affiliation.

Why Democratic voters in Utah switch parties

Anderson said many voters use party-switching as a political tool because they feel they have no other choice.

“(Republicans) use their power, to gerrymander our districts and make it harder for people in places like Salt Lake County to have fair representation,” he said. “So a lot of people say … they’re gonna play political games? We’re gonna switch party registration and vote in the primary for the candidate that we think would be best for the state.”

It’s a questionable strategy, he said.

“I don’t know how well it worked in 2020 in the governor’s primary or last year in the Senate primary, but a lot of people do feel like that’s the best way to have their voice heard.”

How Utah Republicans feel about party switching

Utah Republican Party chair Robert Axson believes the new law isn’t nefarious, but rather a fix to reflect a similar law already in effect for elections on even years.

“The Republican Party is a private organization, and we have decided to have a closed primary,” he told KSL NewsRadio.

“We invite any Utahn to affiliate as a Republican and be with us for years on end. Engage with us, and share your perspective and ideas.”

For Axson, the party-switching method is shortsighted. He said he’d prefer to have an open, honest conversation about political beliefs.

“I would prefer we all lay out our cards, (and say) here’s what we believe. And then let’s have that debate of ideas. I think it will improve all of us along the way.”

Switching for the primary election

Even with all the talk of party switching, Salt Lake County Clerk, Lannie Chapman, said it may not be possible. She told KSL at Night that a voter needs to make the change before the law takes effect.

“If a voter who is currently affiliated, let’s say United Utah, wanted to vote in the Republican primary, they would have to do so before the bill takes effect,” she explained. “Otherwise, the change does not take effect until after the primary is done.” 

Chapman expects the governor to sign the bill on Wednesday. That leaves those who wish to switch their affiliation out of time. However, Chapman noted that this change only applies to those who are already affiliated with a party. 

“This does not affect unaffiliated voters’ ability to affiliate,” Chapman said. “Newly registered voters too, they’re not held to this law, either. They can register to vote and still choose whatever party they would like to affiliate with.”


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Special election and party switching, Utah Democrats, Republicans respond