New party seeks to end state funding for closed Republican primaries

United Utah Party chairman says it is unfair to make taxpayers fund an election where many of them cannot participate.<br>

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Richard Davis, chairman of the new United Utah Party, is calling for an end of state funding for GOP primaries where only Republicans — not all taxpayers — may participate. Richard Davis is helping to organize a new centrist party of disaffected Republicans and Democrats called the Utah United Party. Organizers as well as several former GOP and Democratic leaders announced the new party during a press conference in the Centennial Room at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday May 22, 2017.

The new United Utah Party is calling for the state to stop spending taxpayer money on GOP primaries where only registered Republicans may vote.

“There is no reason the voters should pay for a party’s primary election when that party refused to allow all taxpayers who are eligible voters from voting in the primary,” said Richard Davis, chairman of the new party that targets middle-of-the-political-spectrum Utahns.

In Utah, the dominant GOP allows only registered Republicans to vote in its “closed” primary. Democrats use an “open primary” in which Democrats and unaffiliated voters may participate. There are hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated voters, making up the second-largest political group in Utah behind Republicans.

County clerks told the Legislature last month that the GOP primary in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is costing the state about $1.5 million extra this year.

“If Republicans want to exclude non-Republicans, that’s fine. But they should have to pay for their elections on their own,” Davis said.

“The choice for Republicans would be to pony up the costs for their own primary elections or to open their primaries to all the voters who are paying for that primary election,” Davis said. “I am guessing that since the Republicans already are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, they would choose to open their primaries.”

Davis said he doubts the Legislature will change the law without public pressure, since Republicans hold a supermajority there.

“When people realize their tax dollars go toward an election they can’t participate in, legislators are going to feel pressure to change” the system, he said.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson defended the current practice as a way to help ensure that Republicans control who their nominees are without outside interference.

“That is our primary. That is where we forward our one candidate” to a general election where all voters participate, he said.

Anderson notes that in his party’s lawsuits challenging SB54 — a law allowing candidates to qualify for primaries either through the caucus-convention system or by collecting signatures — a federal judge overturned a portion of the law that had required open primaries, saying closed primaries are legal and justified.