By Sara Israelsen
SALT LAKE CITY ? Rep. Neil A. Hansen wants to give Utahns more chances to register to vote, but his bill that would have allowed election-day registration was put on hold in the House Government Operations standing committee after almost an hour-long debate, Thursday morning.
Hansen, a Democrat from Ogden, said HB 267 would benefit the state by allowing residents to register to vote at the polls then instantly turn around and cast their ballots. He spoke about how the bill would increase democracy, because often people don?t become involved in politics until right before Election Day, and if it?s fewer than 10 days away, registration is already closed.
The bill would also modify Utah?s Election Code to allow voters the chance to change their party affiliation on Election Day.
However, county clerks from Davis, Summit and Utah county spoke in opposition to the bill arguing that while voting is important, the fiscal note is too low and more accurate accounts would require too much money from citizens.
Although the state government wouldn?t be financially affected, individual counties would have to pay the bill. Salt Lake County, Utah?s largest, was estimated to spend almost $105,000 per election cycle in personnel costs and an extra $100,000 for equipment, according to the bill?s fiscal note.
The equipment needed to support this bill would be laptops with Internet access, extra tables and chairs, and desperately needed personnel.
Currently, Utah County has 270 voting precincts with 120 voting locations. Adding laptops to each area would be a costly investment and two extra poll workers at each location would cost the county at least $106,000 in personnel costs, said Cary McConnell, a clerk with the Utah County Elections office.
Scott Hogensen, Weber County elections administrator, said the most difficult part of this legislation for him would be finding enough qualified poll workers. If 200 of his current judges were pulled to provide two registration workers at each station, the losses would be huge.
?I can only imagine the burden of having to try to find extra judges to fulfill this function,? he said.
And in smaller precincts, losing poll workers would be detrimental if on Election Day, hordes of people showed up to register, then vote.
Hogensen said in the 2004 Presidential election, there was a huge rush on Utah offices the last day of open voter registration, where lines of people spilled out into the hallways, and in some counties, even out of the buildings.
Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, asked Hansen to consider what would happen if this late-registration legislation were approved and people started gravitating to this option.
?Every human being tends to procrastinate ? even in voting,? Aagard said.
Hansen said the bill planned for a 10 percent margin of registering voters on Election Day, varying slightly based on county/precinct population. But even the 10 percent estimate was high because after registering in Utah, voters stay in the system as long as they vote every four years and don?t change address, Hansen said. After a move, residents must re-register.
But faculty and finances aside, fraud was also an issue legislators addressed. They asked Hansen what would stop someone from walking from polling place to polling place, registering then casting multiple ballots.
?Most people should know that they?re committing fraud,? Hansen said. ?It?s actually a felony to do that. ? Should they do that, the database can be checked virtually within seconds.?
Yet despite a statewide, up-to-date database, without the necessary equipment and manpower, opponents say the goal is too lofty.
After the meeting, Hansen said he was frustrated by the strong vocal opposition from the county clerks. He argued that whether it?s financial or workload demands, democracy comes with a cost. But it?s a cost he thinks public servants should be willing to pay, especially since the funds that would benefit residents are coming from these residents through taxes.
?These people are hired as public servants ? let?s do public service,? he said. ?Democracy is at work ? up until election day.?