Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Lessons Learned from the 2016 Primaries

bernick mugCongratulations to Tuesday’s primary winners – well, congrats to the folks who likely can’t lose their nominations in the official canvass’s coming up on July 12.

Because of mail-in balloting – and thank goodness we have those options now – no longer is Election Day definitive.

As you might recall, back in November of 2014 three Utah House races switched from Democratic winners to Republican winners in the days following the second Tuesday in November.

It took the official voter canvass held days later to determine the final victors.

There are a few primaries this year that will wait for that final count.

But we know now that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert thumped challenger Jonathan Johnson.

We know that Misty Snow will be the first transgender person winning a major party U.S. Senate nomination in Utah (Democratic).

And we know most of the Utah legislative primary winners, as well.

And we know that the new SB54 dual candidate route to the primary law didn’t have much of a real world impact.

In by far most of the races, candidates who won their party nominations this Tuesday would have gotten on the primary ballot without gathering signatures – as SB54 allowed.

The real winners Tuesday were primary voters – who turned out in numbers not seen for decades.

That’s great.

The biggest reason for such turnout, undoubtedly, was voting by mail in 20 of 29 Utah counties.

And it appears the county clerks did a good job with the new voting method.

I hope the Legislature makes mail-in balloting a mandatory option throughout the state.

Yes, there should still be places where voters of any party can go in person and cast a ballot on Election Day – primary or general.

There are many reasons for that. But likewise, voters should be able to cast a ballot from their kitchen table.

I hope Utah will lead the nation in developing easy, reliable online voting – either on Election Day or for several days ahead of Election Day.

If we can buy a car over the internet, pay our monthly bills and order our prescription drugs, we should be able to cast a vote through our computers, tablets and even smartphones.

Primary voter turnout was over 25 percent in Salt Lake County, reported Clerk Sherrie Swensen, with more votes still to be counted as ballots come in the mail and mail-in ballots turned in at voter locations Tuesday are counted.

Count My Vote supporters are saying the higher turnout comes because there were more primary contests this year because of SB54 – with some candidates getting on the ballot when in past years they would have been stopped in convention.

But there were only a few of those candidates, and most of them lost to challengers (often incumbents) who got through their conventions.

Most of the higher turnout came because of mail-in ballots – even if I do believe SB54 is a good thing, but for other reasons than voter turnout.

A cursory look by me shows that – as is usually the case – legislative incumbents are doing well this year, with only a few being knocked out in convention or in the primary.

We may well lose longtime House member Mel Brown, however, as he ended Tuesday night 64 votes behind a Republican challenger in House District 53, up in the Coalville/Uintah Basin areas.

Brown first came to the Legislature in 1986, and served two terms as speaker before being temporarily hindered in a personal and political battle.

He came back in the 2006 elections from a different part of the state. And he brings a lot of institutional memory to the 75-member body. He would be missed.

But there is always turnover among the 104 part-time legislators, and the new blood is healthy.

After all, we still have the eternal Sen. Lyly Hillyard, R-Logan, who was first elected to the House when the press gallery was lit by gaslight and the chamber bill calendar was kept with white chalk on blackboard (the latter is actually true).

So, the 2016 primaries and conventions are over, the winners take some time off preparing for the start of the final elections around September (or coast if they don’t have a major party opponent).

The losers lick some wounds, and probably pay some final campaign bills.

SB54 tended to be a good thing, although not as volcanic as some predicted – and the Republican Party’s opposition to it will to on for years to come.

We can still count on one thing – Donald Trump will continue making our summer lively, one way or another.