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Limits on political ‘party-hopping’ before primaries makes it through Utah House

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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., center, jokes about getting caught in the middle of a debate between then-Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes during a gubernatorial debate at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Utah Legislature is considering limits on “party-hopping” before primaries after many voters switched parties to vote in the 2020 gubernatorial primary.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives went back and forth Friday on whether a bill to limit a voter’s ability to switch political parties before primaries was too extreme.

In the end, HB197 passed on a 41-30 vote and moves to the Senate, but not without debate.

“We don’t want people to jump into the party and pick our representatives when they don’t have any of those same fundamental beliefs as the members of the party,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan.

HB197 would delay switching political party affiliation between the month of April and the party’s primary election. The change would be processed after the primary. The bill won’t affect unaffiliated voters or newly registered voter requests to affiliate with a political party. There is also an exception for someone who wants to switch to unaffiliated.

Teuscher said the intent of the bill was to prevent any “party-raiding,” as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, in the case Rosario v. Rockefeller.

He referred to last year’s gubernatorial primary as one example of what he calls “gamesmanship,” where people with opposing ideology wanted their rival party to have the “weakest candidate possible.”

“They did it because they felt like they could change the will of what the regular party members would have wanted in that party. That’s where I think there isn’t integrity in the process,” said Teuscher.

Of the 79,252 Utahns who switched to the GOP last year, 21,066 were previously registered with the Democratic Party.

“I strongly believe this isn’t a partisan issue,” Teuscher said, referencing tactics used in Texas on behalf of the Republican Party in the 2008 presidential primaries.

Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, said he doesn’t believe the switching by Democrats in the gubernatorial race was “party-raiding,” and said he thinks voters’ decisions to find the “best person” to represent them is “a valid reason for the change.”

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, was worried the bill missed a larger problem: the lack of millennial participation in elections.

“This doesn’t solve the issue of a lot of people want access to the political process, and they don’t want to have to go through parties to get it,” he said.

Teuscher said he thought his bill would help that. He said the reason they don’t vote is because the gamesmanship in the party politicking “discourages them” to participate in the election process.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, likened the bill to holding voters “hostage” and that it was all about “an ideological purification process” that would only promote GOP extremism.

Teusche took issue with that claim.

“I’ll take a second to just call on all Democrats, that if you believe in limited government and local control and any of the principles that the (GOP) would stand for, please join us! Be a part of our party. Help us shape the future of the party. We are a big tent party,” Teuscher said.