SALT LAKE CITY — The registrations of about 76,000 Utah voters were put on hold this year after election officials said they had gone years without casting ballots.
The moved raised concerns among Democrats about possible disenfranchising of voters
State election officials said the decision was part of normal maintenance of the voter rolls that have gotten cluttered with people who haven't been active for a long time — some for as many as 12 years.
The registration status was changed before a federal deadline that prohibits the cancellation of voter registrations within 90 days before an election, state officials said.
State Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis questioned the assessment that the voters had been inactive for years, saying his party had checked the rolls and found that at least 9,000 of the 76,000 voters had cast ballots in 2008 or 2010.
Registered Democrats amounted to over one-tenth of the voters whose registration were put on hold, according to state records.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, a Democrat, said poll workers have gotten overwhelmed because voting lists have gotten so "voluminous." Swensen, whose county has about 38 percent of Utah's 1.2 million active voters, had the most voter registrations put on hold — about 62,000.
She said putting a registration on hold means voters' names won't be on lists sent to polling places, but they are still in a database where their registration can be verified if they show up to vote and cast a provisional ballot.
"I think we would've been remiss in our duties to leave people on who hadn't voted in eight to 12 years," she said. "We felt it was important, and again, I just don't imagine that these individuals are going to show up and vote, but if they do, they can vote via provisional ballots."
She said in some cases, voters did not respond to mailings alerting them to update their inactive status.
It's common for states to routinely maintain voter lists to remove felons or deceased voters, as well as those who haven't cast ballots for a long time. But political parties usually raise red flags when election officials try to cancel inactive voters during big election years.
Dabakis said he didn't understand why election officials didn't wait until after November to make changes to the lists.
"I just don't see the justification for this close to the election," he said, adding it appeared to be another attempt from Republicans, who make up 47 percent of the state electorate, "to win every single seat in the entire state."
Unaffiliated voters comprise 42 percent of Utah's registered voters and Democrats are 9 percent, according to the state's election office.
About 12 percent of the voters whose status was put on hold were Democrats, 22 percent were Republicans, and 66 were unaffiliated, according to Mark Thomas, director of the state's elections office, which is run from the Republican lieutenant governor's office. The percentage breakdown is based on an earlier tally in August of 73,000 voter registrations on hold.
Thomas criticized Democrats for "throwing this bomb out there" by raising accusations of partisanship by election officials so close to Nov. 6.
"It shakes voter confidence," he said.
Democrats have also blasted Republican election chiefs this year for undertaking efforts around the country to find noncitizens who are illegally registered to vote. Democrats have also criticized Republicans for pushing proposals requiring photo ID at the polls.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company