Thursday, May 17, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Utah Will Have a Presidential Primary Option in 2020

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

For much of the post-2016 period, FHQ, in looking ahead to the 2020 cycle, has often raised the caucus-to-primary shifts in Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota. All three formerly caucus states in various ways laid the groundwork in 2016 for 2020 presidential primaries. But that trio of states is not alone in the switch.

In its 2017 session, the Utah state legislature passed legislation -- which was ultimately signed into law -- to provide for a state-funded and run presidential primary option in the Beehive state for the 2020 cycle. And the motivation for HB 204 was borne out of the chaotic Utah caucuses of 2016 the turnout of which overwhelmed both parties in the state. Both the primary sponsor of the bill -- Representative Patrice Arent (D-36th, Millcreek) -- and others providing testimony in committee hearings for the legislation recounted stories of long lines, lack of parking, and understaffed caucus locations in both parties' processes. That prompted Rep. Arent to introduce the bill to "leave running elections to the experts -- our state elections office and the county clerks. Because political parties should be in the business of winning elections, not run[ning] them."

While that sentiment was not exactly shared by the two political parties in the state, both the chairs of the Utah Republican Party, James Evans, and the Utah Democratic Party, Peter Carroon, voiced support for the move. Evans, in particular, supported the state providing for a presidential primary election, but leaving it up to the state parties to opt into using the election as a means of allocating national convention delegates.

The state did not fund a presidential primary in either of the 2012 or 2016 cycles. It did for 2012 give parties the option of using the June state primary for expressing presidential preference to allocate delegates. The Utah Republican Party opted into in that June primary in 2012, but its late June date was non-compliant (too late) with both parties timing rules in 2016. A failed effort to move (from February to March) and fund a separate presidential primary in 2016 occurred in the same winter/spring 2015 time period that the Utah Republican Party was signaling an inclination to conduct the delegate allocation/selection process through a caucus/convention system.

For 2020, Utah Republicans, with it uncertain to unlikely that President Trump will face any competition for the Republican presidential nomination, will retain the ability to hold caucuses. However, both state parties will have the ability to avoid the caucus chaos of 2016 with an option of a state-run 2020 presidential primary. The state will put up some funds for the primary, but local/county  governments will seemingly bear the brunt of most of the costs.

What is and was left unclear in 2017 effort to fund a 2020 presidential primary is when that primary will be held. Currently, state parties have two options on that front. The Western States Presidential Primary is scheduled for the first Tuesday in February. If and only if that option is not funded by the state -- and it was not in either 2012 or 2016 -- then the state parties can opt into the late June state primary. But neither date fits into the window -- first Tuesday in March to mid-June (different June cutoffs for both parties) -- allowed by the national parties for states to conduct their delegate selection events.

That means that with the funding now there, the Utah legislature will have to revise the date of the 2020 presidential primary during its 2019 session.

It should be noted that the legislation -- HB 204 -- signed into law funds/requires a "presidential primary", but not the Western States Presidential Primary specifically. Now, that requirement does appear in the Western State Presidential Primary section of the Utah Code, but is not exactly a requirement for that February contest. FHQ raises this uncertainty with respect to its treatment of the Utah presidential primary on the 2020 presidential primary calendar. The Utah legislature will set the date in 2019, and for now, FHQ is categorizing the primary in the Beehive state as having no date (due to the lack of clarity in the code). It is a fine distinction, but FHQ categorizes Utah as in need of setting a date and not in need of changing a non-compliant date.

The Utah law has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

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