Salt Lake County Democrats may make a small, but potentially significant rule change the morning of the county convention.
Right now, a candidate in a contested race needs to get 60% support from delegates to avoid a primary. Under the proposed change, if a candidate gets 57% support or higher, there would be a second ballot which would allow delegates the chance to change their votes and avoid sending the race to a primary - essentially giving a candidate that falls just short of the 60% threshold another bite at the apple.
The new rule arises from some unclear language in the party’s constitution. Races that have more than two candidates allow for multiple rounds of balloting, but races with only two candidates do not. For example – if there are three candidates, there are three rounds of voting. If there are two candidates, there is only one.
County Chair Mary Bishop says the timing of the proposed change - the morning of the convention - is not ideal.
“Candidates don’t know if they’ll have to keep their delegates in place for a second vote. That’s always a tough proposition to keep people around on a Saturday, especially if the weather is nice.”
The race that might be impacted most by the change is the contest between Ross Romero and Ben McAdams. If one of those two gets 57% or more on the first ballot, they could potentially win the nomination on a second ballot.
Romero says they’ve been aware of the possible change for a couple of months, but it’s not changing their strategy, even if the rules change on Saturday morning.
“This is not about a 3% differential. This is about making our case and who the delegates support. At the end of the day, it’s about having a conversation with the delegates and putting forward our position as to why I’m the best candidate.”
McAdams says they’re not worried yet about a change in plans on the day of the convention.
“If the rule passes, we will be scrambling to figure out how to keep our delegates from leaving after the first round of balloting.”
McAdams says he understands the inclination to avoid a primary election in any race because it can be expensive, and Democrats need to save as many resources as they can for the general election.
Bishop does not seem in favor of changing the rules just to avoid a primary.
“With the caucus system being so much under fire right now, I think that if you cannot get 60%, you should have to make your case with the broader public.”
Plus, she sees other benefits in a primary election. She bluntly says the primary election Jim Matheson ran against Claudia Wright in 2010 saved his seat in Congress.
“Jim Matheson is an extraordinary campaigner. He used that time well by identifying voters and getting his message out. A primary can only help you if you have name recognition problems. You are all over the news.”
She’s not sure if the proposed change will pass, but she says the convention is prepared to have more than one vote if needed.