SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would have required all counties to provide same-day Election Day registration stalled in a House committee Thursday.
HB285 would have enacted a five-year pilot program to expand on a test program that eight counties participated in over the past three years, but a majority of the House Government Operations Committee voted against giving the bill a favorable recommendation to the full House floor.
"My concern is local control," Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, said, arguing individual county clerks should be able to opt into the program, not be required by the state.
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said data collected over the past three years shows same-day Election Day registration does not cause problems with voting and helps more voters cast a ballot, even if they forgot to register ahead of time.
"This program is valuable to our democracy," Chavez-Houck said in a prepared statement after the vote. "I had hoped that after reviewing the facts, my colleagues would have voted differently."
The committee's chairman, Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, worried same-day voter registration increased Election Day wait times — a problem lawmakers and GOP leaders decried after last year's presidential election.
But Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said same-day registration wasn't likely the culprit of last year's election's long lines, arguing clerks across the state attributed the wait times to a "perfect storm" of issues, including many voters preferring to vote in person and waiting until the last minute due to the volatility of last year's election.
Arent also pointed out state elections officials have said there has been voter confusion about same-day registration, because its availability varies from county to county.
"Local control sometimes doesn't make sense for elections. You need consistency, otherwise it's going to be confusing to people," Arent said.
The motion to pass the bill out of the committee failed with a 3-5 vote.
Chavez-Houck asked if she'd be able to bring the bill back to committee with amendments, but she was told that was a discussion she'd have to have with the chairman.