Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, believes Utah should tighten up its voter identification laws, as now allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen says Daw's HB126 is unneeded — and will only drive down voter participation in Utah.
Daw's bill would remove a dozen or more now-allowable identifications that a voter can show in order to be registered to vote. In addition, it would require that on Election Day a registered voter would have to show an approved picture identification, and eliminate the option for a person to be able to show two documents of residency, like a utility bill, to prove he or she lives in the proper voter district.
The citizen could still vote with a provisional ballot if he or she didn't have a valid Utah driver's license, state ID card or other government-issued picture identification, such as a passport. But the voter would then have to provide proper ID later to have his or her ballot counted, as current law provides.
Daw admits that there is not a real problem with voter fraud in Utah. "But why wait until that happens? Let's deal with it now," he said.
An Indiana voter ID law was recently upheld by the high court. And Daw said he used that decision in drafting HB126.
"We're trying to get more people to vote in Utah," said Swensen, a Democrat, who has overseen elections in the state's largest county for years. HB126 "goes against what Gov. (Jon) Huntsman (Jr.) and his new commission is trying to do — get more people to vote, not fewer."
She worried that the bill would increase the waiting time for voters, and poll workers would be required to decide if an ID was valid. Such confusion could potentially chase voters away from the polls.
"A voter that was challenged may just leave and not vote provisional, causing many more problems," she said.
But Daw said he has a neighbor who is an election judge, and the man was concerned that when he was assigned to an Orem voting district away from his home, he knew none of the voters personally.
"He was very concerned that he didn't even need to see a driver's license" on Election Day. "Anyone could come in and say they were someone else, and unless that person had already voted, that person would vote in his place," said Daw.
But Swensen said that in any polling place now — a stranger, a candidate's poll watcher or a poll judge himself — could challenge any voter for cause. And that voter would have to cast a provisional ballot and justify that ballot later.
"This bill seeks to address a problem that doesn't exist," said Swensen. "Utah has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation, and this will only make it worse."
Those challenges could be addressed in a bill that would require any challenges to a voter's registration be done 30 days or more before elections, be done in writing and be made under oath. That bill, however, failed to make it out of the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday morning, instead being sent back for revisions.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Neil Hanson, D-Ogden, would only allow for individuals to make challenges at a polling place on the day of the election by signing a sworn affidavit on site. He said the goal was to ensure accountability for those who "want to make a game" out of voter challenges.
Rep. Douglas C. Aagard, R-Kaysville, expressed concerns about whether the changes would create a "chilling effect," and other representatives expressed confusion about some of the language in the bill.
Contributing: David Servatius. E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org