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Opinion: Unaffiliated voters could decide the Utah Senate race — but only if they affiliate

The 2022 Utah Senate race hinges on the Republican primary election, and unaffiliated voters could turn the tide.

SHARE Opinion: Unaffiliated voters could decide the Utah Senate race — but only if they affiliate
A voter pulls up in a silver car and drops a ballot into a ballot box outside on the grassy curb.

A voter drops a ballot into a box at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Party affiliation may be especially important this upcoming Utah Senate race, and unaffiliated voters will not have a chance to choose who ends up on the ballot if they don’t affiliate Republican.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Unaffiliated voters make up the second-largest bloc of voters in Utah. According to the most recent numbers, 562,727 Utahns are officially registered as “unaffiliated”.

That’s a huge number of Utahns who choose to not affiliate with any political party. These voters tend to be engaged citizens who care deeply about issues and want to make their decisions based on principles rather than party allegiance. In elections, they vote for the candidate and not the party.

Current voter registration numbers in Utah are as follows: Republican (944,173); unaffiliated (562,727); Democratic (266,831); Independent American (70,532); Libertarian (23,638); Constitution (7,553); United Utah (2,641).

Note: Unaffiliated voters are different than independent voters — a frequent point of confusion. Independent voters are affiliated with the Independent American party while unaffiliated voters are not affiliated with any party.

The midterm elections loom large this year, especially since Utahns will be electing a new senator to represent them in Washington, D.C., for the next six years. Three Republican senate candidates have qualified to be on the primary ballot in June — front-running challenger and former Utah state legislator Becky Edwards; business leader Ally Isom; and the incumbent, Mike Lee, who is running for a third term despite long being an outspoken proponent of term limits (two terms for senators).

Because the Utah Republican Party has chosen a closed primary system, only registered Republicans are allowed to vote in Republican primary races. Since Utah is essentially a one-party state, this closed system serves to disenfranchise voters who are not Republican. This presents an especially problematic scenario this year because the Utah Democratic Party opted not to put forward a candidate for the senate race, choosing instead to support independent candidate Evan McMullin in the general election.

What all of this means is that Utahns can only participate in determining who will be on the ballot along with McMullin in November if they affiliate Republican.

Thankfully, unaffiliated voters (that huge bloc of 562,727 Utahns) have the right under law to change their affiliation at any time. If you are officially affiliated with a different party, the deadline for changing that affiliation has already passed. But new, unregistered and unaffiliated voters can still affiliate Republican so that they can have a voice in the primary. This can be done online at vote.Utah.gov through June 17 or in person at the polls on June 28. If you’re not sure what your voter status is, you can check it here.

This year’s senate race in Utah is a highly consequential one. There’s never been a more important time for new, unregistered and unaffiliated voters in Utah to step up to exert their rights and their power as citizens by registering Republican in order to have a voice in this critical primary election. Indeed, these voters may very well determine who our new senator will be. 

Sharlee Mullins Glenn is an author, advocate, community organizer and engaged citizen. She currently sits on the external advisory board for BYU’s Office of Civic Engagement.