Iowa and New Hampshire are so yesterday. A bill proposal on Capitol Hill would allow Utah to hold the first presidential primary in the nation, and conduct voting online.
Rep. Jon Cox (R-Ephraim) says he’s tired of other states getting all the attention when it comes to the presidential nominating process.
“I don’t know why we protect Iowa and New Hampshire,” he says. “Utah is more diverse than both of those states. Are (Iowa and New Hampshire) representative of America? Not really. It’s a terrible process we have now.”
Cox’s bill, which is still awaiting numbering, would mandate that Utah hold the first primary in the nation. With that “first in line” status, Utah could conceivably become the center of the political universe as candidates try to gain some early momentum in the nomination race. A win in an early primary means legitimacy and fundraising for candidates. Right now, Utah is so far back in line that the nomination is basically decided by the time we get our turn.
Here’s where Cox’s idea really gets interesting. Voting in the primary would be a pilot project held completely online. Cox points to countries like Estonia that hold digital elections with very few problems. Cox says that would be a good template for making sure Utah’s election is safe and secure.
“Security is our biggest hill to climb on this, for sure,” he admits. “But, Utah already allows some voting online for overseas military personnel. We’re already doing this on a limited basis. It wouldn’t be too hard to expand.”
Cox says it makes tons of sense to try online voting in a presidential primary because the stakes aren’t as high as a regular election.
“Since it’s a nominating primary, we’re not playing with real bullets. If we pull it (an online election) off, it’s a huge win for us.”
Plus, Cox points to the fact that some Utah counties use vote-by-mail to allay any worries about security. “You’ve got a postal worker with a bag full of ballots walking around in public. How secure is that, really?”
In the past, if any state attempted to jump ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, those states simply moved their elections up in order to remain first. Since Utah will hold their primary vote online, it would add little to zero cost to change the date of their election to again move to the head of the cue.
The Republican National Committee is warning states to not try and jump ahead of New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina in 2016. Under RNC rules, only those four states are allowed to hold primary contests before March 1. If anyone cuts in line, as Utah might, the RNC will dramatically slash the number of delegates that state sends to the convention. Utah is slated to have 40 delegates for the 2016 convention, but that number could be cut to as few as 10 as punishment. Cox says that threat is basically toothless for a state like Utah.
“Utah really doesn’t matter in the big picture,” he says. “It’s a big threat for states like Florida, and they aren’t going to jump ahead in the process. But, for Utah, it’s meaningless.”
Cox’s bill would move Utah’s presidential primary election only if the legislature appropriates the money, which Cox estimates would be about $1 million.
Since the 2016 presidential primary is nearly two years away, that’s plenty of time for the state to study how to pull off an online vote, which would be truly revolutionary.