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Deadline to switch political parties in Utah moved up

2021 Utah GOP convention
Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-21 19:47:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY — If you want to switch political parties, the deadline has been moved up.

March 31 is the deadline under a law passed by the Utah State Legislature last year. On Monday, the Utah County Clerk/Auditor posted a video showing people how to do it:

"If you are unaffiliated, you can still join a political party and vote in the primary but after that date you cannot change your party," said Ryan Cowley, the state elections director in the Utah Lt. Governor's Office.

The primary election is June 28.

This will most impact the Utah Republican Party's primary election. The state's dominant political party has a closed primary. That means to vote for which candidates advance to the November election? You must be a registered Republican.

"The Republican party’s been referred to as the big tent. We want people to join, we want people to affiliate, we want them to feel welcome," said Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen. "But we also want them to feel welcome because they believe in the Republican party platform and what we believe as Republicans."

Jorgensen says he has seen instances of people switching parties to "game the system" in order to advance certain candidates.

"There’s been plenty of that going on for sure," he said in an interview Monday with FOX 13 News. "We have had a bit of it this year in our caucus meetings and we've seen it on Twitter, people say 'I’m a Democrat but I affiliated as Republican so I can infiltrate the Republican caucuses and mess with their system.' That’s not what this is for, guys. We have our parties for a reason. So we can get behind our candidates, so we can put our best candidate forward."

Data of active registered voters in Utah has shown some party shifting since the beginning of the year. A review by FOX 13 News found that the Utah Democratic Party has seen declines in membership as the Utah Republican Party saw gains. But the biggest shift has been unaffiliated voters — those who belong to no political party.

The last time the state documented any shift was for the hotly contested Republican gubernatorial primary, that whittled a long list of candidates down to Jon Huntsman Jr. and Spencer Cox in the general election. It could happen again this year with a number of Republican challengers lining up to face incumbent Sen. Mike Lee.

Two of the top challengers to Sen. Lee signaled they did not have a problem with it.

"I believe in a big tent Republican Party. Too many good people feel they no longer have a place and we invite them to reclaim their voice and help us move this nation forward," said Ally Isom. "It’s time for a Republican renaissance with a laser focus on our core conservative principles — fiscal discipline, limited government, valuing life, the rule of law, planning for tomorrow. This nation needs those principles now, more than ever. Enough political theater and enough infighting. Let's get the right things done."

"Making voters aware of upcoming events and registration deadlines is part of our campaign’s commitment to civic education and is a sign of a healthy democracy. We invite all voters who identify with Republican values to affiliate with our party and participate in the primary process," said Republican Senate candidate Becky Edwards' campaign in a statement.

Cowley said the state just wants people to be aware of the rule change.

"Our focus has been on informing voters, letting them know that hey this deadline is coming up, making sure that whatever choices they make they know what the rules are," he said.

Jorgensen said overall, Republicans are energized headed into the midterm elections.

"These new delegates, they seem really excited," he said. "They’re engaged politically, and a lot of them are seeing what’s happening at a national level and it’s driving them to show up at a local level."