Todd Taylor, the longtime executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, is not actually a registered Democrat. Like more than half of all Utahns, he is officially "unaffiliated."

That would allow him to reregister at the polls during the June 24 primary as a Republican and vote that ticket — since Democrats have next to no primaries of note themselves this year. "I've been a Republican for a day before," Taylor acknowledges.

The Democratic Party is not officially encouraging those who normally vote Democratic to do such a temporary switch. But Democrats could wreak some havoc if they do.

For example, a recent Deseret News/KSL poll showed Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, holding a fairly healthy 15-point lead over GOP challenger Jason Chaffetz among just Republican registered voters in the 3rd District. But when independents and others who could vote in the GOP primary are added into the mix, Cannon and Chaffetz fall into a dead heat.

"It is the Republican nominating process" and so Democratic leaders will not ask non-Republicans to come into that primary, Taylor said. "But I imagine that some Democrats will (vote in the primary). But we aren't encouraging it."

Still, several reasons exist this year to tempt those normally identifying themselves as Democrats or independents to vote in the Republican primaries.

First, Democrats have only three mostly minor primary races of their own — a Wasatch County Council race, a Carbon County Commission race and a runoff in state House District 69, covering Carbon, Emery and San Juan counties.

No one can remember a Republican ever winning that coal mining area, House 69 seat, said retiring State Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, who earlier in his career held it for 11 terms. "I only had a Republican run against me once," he said. He notes the last time a Republican won any office in Carbon County was 60 years ago. "He was a sheriff. And he got shot," Dmitrich said.

A second reason for Democrats and independents to participate in the GOP race is simply that many can — if they officially are registered as unaffiliated. And 56 percent of all Utah voters are officially unaffiliated, according to the lieutenant governor's office.

Republicans require voters to be registered as Republicans to participate in their primary. (In contrast, Democrats allow anyone registered in any party, or independents, to vote in theirs — meaning that many Democrats never bothered to register as anything but unaffiliated when the state started allowing registration by party in 1994.)

The deadline for voters registered as a member of a party to switch affiliation and join the Republican Party has passed (it is 30 days before the primary). So people registered officially as Democrats (or any other party) cannot switch now and vote in the June 24 election. But anyone registered as "unaffiliated" can reregister at the polls as a Republican and pick up a GOP ballot.

There is one statewide GOP primary — for state treasurer between Deputy Treasurer Richard Ellis and Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy. So all Utahns not registered in another party can vote in that GOP primary.

Those who are not yet registered to vote at all may do so through today — if they visit their county clerk's office in person. (The deadline to register by mail passed 30 days before the election.)

A third reason for the officially unaffiliated to participate in the GOP primary is that it could make a difference. Some GOP incumbents, like Cannon, may see their party's nomination hinge on votes from the now-unaffiliated. And in many heavily Republican areas, the primary may essentially be the real final election.

"I live in Davis County" — a Republican stronghold where voting in a GOP primary for one's lesser of two evils may be "de facto voting for the winner," says Taylor. There often is either no Democrat in the final election or no real chance the Democrat can win.

Stan Lockhart, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, says he is not worried that Democrats and independents may unduly influence GOP primaries.

"In the voting process, there is some basic level of trust you have to have with voters," he said. "I believe that by and large, most won't do it (reregister as a Republican) for a one-day convenience."

He said that since party registration in 1994, he is not aware of any GOP race being unduly influenced by an influx of non-GOP voters reregistering for just a day. However, exit polling showed that in 1990, enough Democrats and independents voted in a U.S. House GOP primary that the more moderate Republican, a woman, beat the more conservative Republican — who ended up with more "Republicans" voting for him.

Meanwhile, Taylor said, "The Republican Party leaders coerce you to be registered as a Republican," and it means they have "a lot of people on their roles who are in fact Democrats or independents."

He uses that argument to say he is not really worried that only 8 percent of Utah voters are officially registered as Democrats (compared to 36 percent who are Republican, and 56 percent who are unaffiliated), nor about what has happened to voter registration by party this year.

The ranks of people registered as Republicans rose by nearly 91,000 between January and now, according to figures from the lieutenant governor's office. In the same time, the number of registered Democrats grew by only 6,700. And the number of unaffiliated voters dropped by nearly 78,000.

That happened as many Utahns likely reregistered as Republicans to vote for local favorite Mitt Romney in the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

Voters can find out how they are registered and where to vote (including how to participate in early voting that begins on Tuesday) by visiting the lieutenant governor's office Web site at elections.utah.gov, and clicking on "voter information Web site." The Web site also includes sample ballots for all local precincts.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com; bbjr@desnews.com