The Independent American Party of Utah has seen steady growth over the last few years as more voters have registered with the conservative party.
But while the numbers on paper show the party has grown, election officials believe some voters may be registering with the party by mistake.
This comes from possible confusion surrounding the party’s name by voters who want to remain independent from a political party. In Utah, voters register as unaffiliated, not independent, if they don’t want to be affiliated with a political party.
Haven’t heard of the Independent American Party? It officially formed in Utah in 1998 and holds strong conservative values with a heavy emphasis on following the U.S. Constitution.
Why and how voters might register by mistake
Utah County Clerk Josh Daniels said while there seems to be growth in the party, he believes there are voters who are registering as Independent American by mistake.
“I would bet that 90% of people who are registered with the IAP don’t realize they’re registered with an actual political party,” Daniels said. “We talk to them all the time.”
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swenson said because the term “independent” is so widely used in the country to mean not affiliated with a party, voters see Independent American and think it means unaffiliated.
Greg Duerden, Independent American Party of Utah chairman, hesitantly said he thinks voters could be registering with the party by mistake. Despite that, he added he believes the numbers still show people are wanting to be independent of the two main political parties.
“Those are the people that really need to check us out,” Duerden said.
Duerden said he sees the Independent American Party as a place for voters who are “fed up” with the party politics of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
According to Vote.Utah.gov, there were 61,321 active voters registered as Independent American as of July 11. In June 2020, there were 46,816 active voters registered with the party.
At the end of 2015, the party claimed only 9,194 active voters.
The Independent American Party has significantly more active voters than other third parties in Utah. In fact, it has more registered active voters than the Libertarian, Constitution and United Utah parties combined.
Comparatively, the Republican Party has 877,553 active voters and the Democratic Party has 236,343 active voters. Unaffiliated voters make up the second largest group of voters in Utah with 470,649 active voters.
Why mistakenly registering with a political party matters
Voters mistakenly registering as Independent American was a particular problem this year, Daniels said, because of the new party affiliation deadline for primary election voting.
Under a new law, voters wanting to change party affiliation before the primary election in June had to do so before March 31. Unaffiliated voters had until Election Day to affiliate with a party.
Republican primaries are closed, meaning only registered Republican voters can participate. Democratic primaries don’t require voters to affiliate with the party to participate.
Swenson said her office was contacted by voters who tried to change their party affiliation for the primaries only to find out they had missed the March deadline.
“So they’re not able to receive a ballot for the closed primary for the Republican Party because they’re actually affiliated with a party,” Swenson said, speaking prior to the primary election in June.
While Daniels said his office saw an increase in complaints, there hadn’t been a “significant” increase.
Ryan Cowley, state director of elections, said while some voters may have registered as Independent American by mistake, “each voter is given notification of their party status and was sent a letter on how to participate in this year’s elections.”
Daniels said Utah County also sent out notifications to voters letting them know deadlines, explaining election processes and listing what political party they were affiliated with.
What actually is the Independent American Party?
David Else, campaign director for the Independent American Party of Utah, put the beliefs of the party simply — “We use the Constitution as the solution.”
Duerden added he sees the Republican Party as the “progressive party,” saying no other party is more conservative than the Independent American Party.
“We’re more Republican than the Republican Party,” Duerden said.
While the party’s platform may be more conservative than the Republican Party, both Else and Duerden believe their party to be a place for any Utahn who isn’t happy with the two-party system. Else explained the party welcomes anyone and only asks people who are running for office, have been elected as members of the party (no one currently is), or are in party leadership to accept the party’s beliefs.
These principles maintain the party’s strong belief in the Constitution, emphasize God’s role in government, and condemn communism and socialism.
Else said the party’s stance on abortion is stricter than that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — accepting no exemptions.
The name of the party, according to Else, comes from a statement he said came from the church’s founder Joseph Smith about an independent American party springing up after the Democrat and Republican parties go to war with one another.