The Utah Republican Party announced Thursday they would postpone their neighborhood caucus meetings scheduled for March 24th because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Utah Democrats said they were not mandating any changes to the caucus meetings, but they are “strongly advising” that leaders find alternatives to the meetings.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that Utahns should avoid large gatherings of more than 100 people because of the coronavirus pandemic. He also said elderly Utahns, who are most at risk from the virus, should avoid gatherings of more than 20 people.
Because of those restrictions, both Republicans and Democrats said they would nix the in-person portion of their party conventions, scheduled for April 25. Republicans were planning to meet in Davis County, while Democrats had booked their state convention on the campus of Utah State University.
Republicans said they would move a large portion of their state convention online, while Democrats said plans would be forthcoming.
“Any process we use to move these meetings online will cost a lot,” said Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown. “I’ve got mixed feelings about doing this. We have to make sure the process is fair to everyone.”
Utah Democratic Chair Jeff Merchant said Thursday he doesn’t want to alter their party process, but they have no choice in order to make sure everyone is safe.
“The delegate system is how our party works,” he said. “We need to make sure the heart of that process stays in place.”
Republicans and Democrats usually select thousands of state and county-level delegates at those election-year meetings, but it’s unclear how they’ll be able to do that with the COVID-19 concerns.
“I like the idea of using technology to bring the caucuses into the modern era,” said Brown. “Our caucuses still look exactly like they did in the 1950s, so it would be good to modernize them.”
Brown said Thursday that the Utah GOP would not be electing new delegates this year as is the custom. Instead, they will extend the terms of the existing delegates who were elected in the 2018 cycle. That could change the strategy for several Republican candidates who have been actively trying to recruit new candidates who will support them at the convention. Now, they’ll have to woo existing delegates in their quest to win the nominations in their respective races.
Also on Thursday, the United Utah Party announced they would be holding their caucus meetings and conventions online.