Utah’s 2016 Presidential Primary is in Trouble

Utah has to move its 2016 presidential primary.

Right now, the primary is scheduled for June 28, 2016, which is the same day as the state’s normal primary election. Since the GOP decided to hold their national convention much earlier than normal, July 18-21, Utah’s contest is too close. That means the state is out of compliance with the national rules, which could result in Utah being penalized delegates because RNC rules say states have to be finished with their delegate selection process by the second Saturday in June.

There is another date in play here. If the legislature decides to allocate $3 million for an actual Utah Presidential Primary, that date would be in early February. The early February contest is part of a bill passed by Rep. Kraig Powell in 2013 that sets the primary for the first Tuesday in February of a presidential election year, which would be February 2.

If that happens, it would again put Utah out of compliance with national rules because both RNC and DNC rules prohibit February primaries for any state except for the four states given special status (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) as first in line.

So, what does Utah do?

Rep. Jon Cox (R-Ephriam) would like to see the state shoot for the earlier date. After all, he sponsored legislation last year that would see Utah jump to the front of the line, ahead of the four early states.

“I say if you’re going to be non-compliant, be as non compliant as possible,” he jokes, saying he'd like the state to go as early as possible.

All kidding aside, Cox knows this is a big problem facing lawmakers, and they’re starting to talk about it.

“We have to do something this year,” he says. “If we want to move our primary to an earlier date, we can’t pass something during the 2016 session, because that will be too late.”

Cox says he favors going with an earlier date because it makes Utah a player in the process. Right now, the Beehive State goes last, and nobody pays attention to us.

Republican Party Chair James Evans is toying with the idea of holding the first part of their delegate selection process during the March mass meetings in 2016 instead of a primary. There is talk that Evans plans on asking each of the presidential candidates to donate $50,000 to the state party in order to fund the caucus election, but many observers scoff at that notion saying Utah doesn’t have enough clout to command that kind of an investment from national campaigns. If you’ll remember, Utah’s Democrats tried something similar in 2004. The state decided not to fund a presidential primary since George W. Bush was running for re-election and would have no competition. The Utah Democratic Party had a state party-run primary on February 2 of that year. Republicans had a caucus at their state convention.

Right now, the most likely date for Utah to hold a statewide primary election would be March 22. Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon says the DNC is talking about having Utah participate on that date in a possible regional primary. Arizona currently is the only election scheduled that day.

“We’ve talked with the Republicans, and they are thinking sometime in March as well,” says Corroon. “Since the Republicans in the Legislature are in the majority, they get to make this decision. But we are hoping for sometime in March.”