Republican conventions in Salt Lake and Utah counties are always long, with speeches and rounds of voting stretching hour upon hour. But this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the conventions will last even longer — for days, without anyone attending in person.
“It will all be virtual,” said Salt Lake County Republican Scott Miller. Delegates at his convention may watch prerecorded videos of speeches online when they want — and have 25 hours to cast votes electronically on Saturday and Sunday, followed by a additional rounds as needed. Miller said it could last as long as through Monday morning.
Utah County delegates were allowed to start voting electronically Thursday morning at 8, with a deadline to complete it by 5 p.m. on Saturday. “We decided that way, we would have plenty of time to mitigate any electronic hiccups,” said Utah County Republican Chairman Stewart Peay.
Unlike Salt Lake County, Utah County will use ranked-choice voting, where voters identify their first, second, third, etc., choice, with candidates eliminated until someone has a majority. So it will have only one round of voting.
In another unique move, delegates elected two years ago continue to serve because of the COVID-19 precautionary cancellation of neighborhood caucuses this year.
It makes for a rare backdrop as the conventions attempt to narrow the field of candidates — including four people opposing a Utah County commissioner who recently came out as gay and helped pass a 67% property tax hike, and races involving eight legislative incumbents.
Also, in heavily Republican Utah County, the convention has the potential to essentially serve as the general election in some legislative races — where delegates could choose a single nominee who will then face no opposition from Democrats, or only opposition from minor parties whose candidates haven’t won a state election in decades.
Party chairmen say they came up in a hurry with a system they believe is fair for candidates, and safe for delegates.
“We had three weeks to put this together after the governor came out with his declaration” against large gatherings, Miller said. His county is using a company named VOATZ to provide electronic voting that he says has numerous safeguards, including giving delegates electronic receipts of how they voted and producing a written trail that may be audited.
Delegates will narrow the field in some hot races.
One attracting lots of competition is for the Utah County Commission seat now held by Nathan Ivie, who last year came out as gay in the conservative county. He also voted for a 67% property tax hike that was unpopular. Four GOP challengers have filed against Ivie. The convention will narrow that field to two for the primary election, and perhaps just one if someone can win 60% of delegate votes.
“When you adjust your property tax rate for the first time in 23 years, you’re probably not going to be popular,” Ivie said in an interview. “A lot of people didn’t understand the state of the county when I took office, the things that had been neglected.” He’s campaigning as someone willing to make tough votes to help the county, even if it hurts reelection.
Did coming out as gay also attract opposition? “I would probably say not really,” Ivie said. “The vast majority of people could care less. They’re more interested in what I’m doing as their elected official. And they actually appreciate the fact that I was just honest and upfront.”
In convention videos already available online, his opponents all attack the tax hike.
“We need someone who will stand up and say a 67% property tax increase all at once is too much,” former County Commissioner Steve White said in his convention video.
Another challenger, attorney Christoper Forbush called the tax hike “an egregious display of the fiscal irresponsibility that has come to define Utah County Government…. The tax hike was built on either Commissioner Ivie’s knowing misrepresentation or on his wholesale incompetency.”
Other candidates include Tom Sakievich, who served in the Marines for 30 years, and Taylor Dayton.
In Salt Lake County, several well-known politicians are running in County Council District 2 where Republican Michael Jensen is retiring. They include former state Rep. Fred Cox, leader of the recent ballot initiative that led to overturning a tax reform law; West Valley City Council member Karen Lang; and Dave Alvord, former South Jordan mayor.
Also in County Council District 4, incumbent Max Burdick is being challenged by fellow Republican Dea Theodore.
One legislative race has drawn seven Republican hopefuls, all trying to take the place of Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who is running for a state Senate seat. The eventual Republican nominee faces no candidates from any other party.
McKell faces a three-way fight in the GOP convention for Senate District 7, the seat of retiring Sen. Deidre Henderson, who is running mate to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, in the governor’s race.
One of the three Republicans running for House District 67 will replace retiring Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem.
There’s also a three-way fight for the seat of West Jordan Republican Rep. Kim Coleman who is running for Congress. Among the trio, Aaron Starks is guaranteed a spot on the primary ballot after having gathered signatures. Contenders Sam Boone and Jordan Teuscher will have to win the favor of delegates to survive.
Among many Republicans incumbents challenged at convention, some already are assured a primary battle if they survive the delegate voting. Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, faces Kenneth Grover, twin brother of Sen. Keith Grover. Kenneth Grover qualified for the primary ballot by gathering signatures, while Judkins did not.
Other incumbents will compete in conventions but already are assured of proceeding to the primary election because they gathered enough signatures. They include: Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, Reps. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and Kay Christoffersen, R-Lehi, who is challenged by anti-abortion activist Merrilee Boyack.