Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — State elections officials are looking into instances of unauthorized voter registration changes reported by members of the United Utah Party, including the year-old party’s first candidate, Jim Bennett.
Bennett, who ran in last year’s special congressional election, said he checked and found that his voter registration had been switched to unaffiliated after hearing from other United Utah Party members their registrations had been changed.
"It’s bizarre to me. I don’t know what they think they can accomplish by doing this if sabotage is the goal," Bennett said. "The only damage being done to the party is we look smaller than we actually are."
State Elections Director Justin Lee said his office "will be looking into the issues. We encourage anyone who believes there is an issue with their voter registration to contact their county clerks or the lieutenant governor’s office."
On Friday, United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis sent a letter to Lee requesting an investigation, citing at least three instances where party members discovered their affiliation had been changed without their consent
Besides Bennett, current 1st Congressional District candidate Eric Eliason and the party’s social media director, Jared Oates, both said they had been notified they were no longer United Utah Party members.
Eliason, who had previously changed his party registration when he got into the race to unseat Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said he received a new voter registration card showing him as a United Utah Party member.
But then, Eliason said, a second card arrived showing he had chosen to be an unaffliated voter.
Oates said he, too, initially received confirmation he was registered with the new party only to find out that he was listed as a Republican Party member online. Oates and Bennett both had made videos when they signed up with the new party.
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Bennett, who now serves as the spokesman for the United Utah Party, said Lee told party members last week that the changes were clerical errors made by county clerks offices.
The three instances cited by the party occurred in Salt Lake, Cache and Utah counties, Bennett said, raising the party’s concerns about what might be happening. He said the party is urging members to check their registrations.
Bennett said he has not yet corrected his party affiliation.
"I will," he said. "I want to make sure it’s solved before I change my registration back again. There may be an innocent explanation for this. We’re trying not to cast aspersions on anyone."
But Bennett said the number of registered United Utah Party members has appeared low compared to participation at party events. The state lists total membership at 591, the lowest of any recognized political party in the state.
Because the United Utah Party allows a member of any political party to participate, Bennett said the voter registration issue is hurting the party only "in terms of perception of our numbers."
He said that seems "to be an incredibly petty thing to do deliberately."
Lee, asked if he was concerned the United Utah Party may be being targeted to keep its membership number low, said, he has "no reason to believe that, but we will look into the issues to see what is going on.