House Committee Advances Presidential Primary Bill

Utah is inching ever so slowly toward dipping their toes into the world of internet voting.

Thursday morning a House committee advanced HB329, which provides money for a presidential primary in 2016, but also authorizes voting by internet for overseas members of the military and disabled Utahns. 
Bill sponsor, Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephriam, says Internet voting is available to those groups now, but it's emailing a PDF copy of the ballot via email.
"I believe online voting is coming, and it's a viable option," said Cox. "We can create a system that is safe and secure."
Cox noted the state has voting equipment that is coming to the end of its functional lifetime. The cost to replace it would be significant. The federal government paid for the current equipment, but that won't be the case if Utah decides to buy new voting machines.
"That's a hardware expense. We all carry around hardware right now, smartphones, iPads. Instead of buying voting hardware, we could buy software."
Mark Thomas with the Lt. Governor's office says they like the idea of limiting online voting to a small, pilot program because it would allow them to move slowly.
"Other countries have been able to do it (online voting). We learned from them that you needed to start slowly and on a small scale. This would cover about 2,000 to 3,000 people."
The bill also moves Utah's primary date to the 4th Tuesday in March. Currently, Utah could hold a primary on the first Tuesday in February or the 4th Tuesday in June. Due to changes in the nominating calendar by both major parties, either of those dates would result in Utah losing delegates. The February date is too early, and the June date is too late.
Another complication is the Utah GOP's plan to hold their presidential nominating contest during their caucus meetings instead of a primary. Party Chair James Evans says over the past three primaries, about 200,000 Republicans on average participated each year. 
"We think we can beat that with our caucus," Evans boasted. 
However, Evans said they don't want the state to not hold a primary election for other parties just because the largest political party in the state may not participate.
"We don't want to disrupt other parties. We don't want this bill to not move forward if we (the GOP) don't participate."
There's the rub. The bill allocates $3 million for the 2016 March primary. If lawmakers choose to not spend that money, the primary will default to the June date, which would put the state out of compliance with the national parties. If the state does spend the $3 million, they potentially may be funding a primary election for the smaller Democratic Party and other third parties.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said he would prefer that Utah not even have a presidential primary in 2016 because voters got tired of so many primaries in 2012. 
"I think voters experience 'primary fatigue,' and I believe that contributed to the demise of my party's candidate in 2012. I feel there are too many primaries, and I don't know if Utah needs to participate."
The committee voted 6-1 in favor, and the bill now heads to the House floor.