When lawmakers failed to pass HB 329, it basically left Utah's Democrats, and other parties, up the creek without a paddle for their 2016 presidential primary.
Right now, Utah's presidential primary is scheduled for the same date as the primary election in June of 2016. That date is too late for both the Republicans and Democrats as it puts Utah's election too close to the national conventions. That's a problem because it makes Utah "out of compliance," meaning the parties could suffer penalties from the national parties, possibly losing delegates.
HB329, sponsored by Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephriam, allocated $3 million to move the primary from June to March. That didn't happen, so Utah's primary stays on the June date.
The Utah Republicans already have a work around. Party Chair James Evans is pushing to switch to a caucus instead of a primary. He's aiming to increase participation in their caucus meetings.
But Utah's Democrats are stuck unless they do something different.
"Thanks to James Evans and the Utah GOP, we don't have a state-funded primary this year," says executive director Lauren Littlefield. "We are a party that should be focused on winning elections, not running elections. That should be left to the state."
Littlefield's shot at Evans is unfair given Evans told a House committee they should support HB329 and fund the statewide March primary even though the Utah GOP was not going to participate.
"It's preposterous for Democrats to blame me for this when I actually spoke in favor of the bill" retorted Evans.
She says the Utah Democrats are currently exploring some sort of online presidential primary vote that would piggyback with their caucus meetings next March.
There's one problem with that. Democratic National Committee bylaws specifically don't allow online voting. The party is currently working with the DNC to find a workable solution.
Whatever they come up with, it's going to cost the party money. One proposal they've looked at with a full encrypted system would cost around $1 a vote. In 2008, 131,000 people voted in the Democratic primary. If the Democrats see similar numbers in 2016, that's a pricey proposition staring them in the face.
"The right to vote for president is a fundamental right," says Littlefield. "Our big problems with online voting are cost, logistics, and security. We have to do this in a way that boosts the turnout in a state that already has abysmal turnout in the first place."
It's ironic that Utah's Democrats have been backed into this corner, being forced to try online elections, especially since the idea of Internet voting is being championed by Republicans in Utah's legislature.
"It's incredibly ironic that we're having to put into practice what the moderate Republicans in the legislature have been advocating for," chuckles Littlefield. "What they want to do is cool. This is the future, and it would put Utah so far ahead of the rest of the country."
Utah's Democratic caucus meetings are set for March 22, 2016.