Friday, March 13, 2015

Close of Utah Legislative Session Kills Effort to Move Back February Presidential Primary Option

It is pretty standard for there to be a flurry of activity on the last day of any state legislative session. Utah was not an exception to that rule as the legislature in the Beehive state adjourned on Thursday, March 12. One item not on the list of 2015 legislative accomplishments, though, was moving the February presidential primary option back into compliance with national party rules. HB 329 died in committee when the regular legislative session expired.

In response, it might be easy to suggest that passing legislation to move the February presidential primary option to March was moot anyway. For starters, the Utah Republican Party has already voted to switch from the primary to a state-party funded caucuses/convention system for 2016. Secondly, no appropriations proposals ever made it into any of the budget bills this session. No funding, no February primary. At best, then, passing HB 329 would have been a move aimed at the 2020 presidential election cycle. 2020 is a long way off, and Utah legislators will have other opportunities to revisit this after the caucuses experiment in 2016.

This development is not without significance, though. The February option is now off the table in Utah. And while Republicans are seemingly locked into likely March caucuses, the Utah Democratic Party process is still a bit up in the air. A bit. Democrats would have the option of using the late June primary as called for by Utah state law. However, that date is too late to comply with the Democratic National Committee rules on delegate selection.1

That means that Utah Democrats will have to use the caucuses/convention system the party utilized in 2012 again in 2016 to comply with the delegate selection rules of the national party. Like Utah Republicans, Democrats in the Beehive state are very likely to hold a presidential preference vote in conjunction with March neighborhood caucus meetings. This is what Utah Democrats did in 2012.

1 Rule 11 sets a window of time in which non-carve out states can conduct delegate selection events. That window opens on the first Tuesday March and closes the second Tuesday in June. The regular Utah primary falls on the fourth Tuesday in June.

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