Should party delegates be able to keep candidates who gathered signatures in Utah off a primary ballot?

Proposed bill would forego a primary election if a candidate gets 70% support at a party convention.

A just introduced bill could have a significant impact on political campaigns, potentially undermining candidates who collect signatures to secure a spot on the primary election ballot.

House Bill 393 from Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, makes it so a candidate can avoid a primary election if they get 70% or more support from delegates at a party convention, even if other candidates have qualified for the ballot by gathering signatures.

Utah Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen asked Teuscher to run the legislation this year because he wants to find a way to give party delegates and conventions more of an impact on picking a nominee.

“This incentivizes candidates to campaign at the convention without taking away the signature path. If you can’t garner 30% at the convention, you’ll probably have a difficult time in a primary election,” Jorgensen says.

Jorgensen points out that the change would have allowed Sen. Mike Lee and Rep Chris Stewart to avoid being forced into a primary election in 2022. Lee secured just over 70% at the convention, then cruised to an easy primary win over Becky Edwards and Ally Isom who gathered signatures. Stewart received nearly 85% of delegate support and easily defeated Erin Rider in the primary.

The signature path came about nearly a decade ago after Sen. Bob Bennett’s shocking reelection loss at the GOP state convention in 2010. Republican delegates sent Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater to the primary ballot, ending Bennett’s long career in Washington.

In 2014, lawmakers found a compromise with Count My Vote to create the signature path to the ballot and allow candidates to avoid being eliminated at the convention. That compromise, known as SB54, headed off a likely-successful ballot initiative that would have removed political conventions as a path to the nomination altogether.

Taylor Morgan, a spokesperson for Count My Vote, said getting 70% support at the convention does not fix the fundamental problem with using the caucus and convention system to pick nominees.

“The caucus and convention path is broken because it’s dominated by extremists and bullies. It is not reflective of the majority of primary voters. If the Republican Party is concerned the caucus convention path isn’t working, they should focus on improving their own process and stop undermining and punishing candidates who gather signatures,” Morgan said.

Last year several Republican candidates who were endorsed by convention delegates did not find success at the ballot box, losing to candidates who secured a spot in the primary through signatures.

Morgan added political parties have not done anything to improve access to caucus meetings, and there is no way to verify how a delegate may have voted or even showed up to the convention at all.

Jorgensen says the bill doesn’t eliminate the signature path, just provides an incentive for candidates to make their pitch to delegates.

“I’m already getting calls from political consultants who say they have clients who are planning on just gathering signatures and skipping the convention altogether. This just makes it so they’ll have to show up at the convention to make sure the other candidates don’t get 70%,” Jorgensen said.