Kem Gardner: Election for Utah governor is in June, not November

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo the Utah governor candidates are pictured. From left, Jeff Burningham, Aimee Winder Newton, Jon Huntsman, Thomas Wright, Greg Hughes and Spencer Cox pose for a group photo with Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts, center after a debate at the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit convention, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down for most Utahns over the past several weeks, it’s difficult to blame anyone for not having the 2020 gubernatorial election as his or her most pressing concern. But the truth is, Utah’s next governor could very well be elected before most voters are even paying attention.

Utah’s Republican primary election is set for June 30, but even that is a bit misleading. Because ballots are distributed at least three weeks before Election Day, those who want a ballot must be registered to vote and affiliated with the Republican Party.

Of course, there will still be a general election in November. But the last time a Democrat won the Governor’s Mansion was 40 years ago, and that streak is unlikely to be broken this cycle. So, for anyone who wants to have a say in who runs our state for the next four years and beyond, the time to act is now.

If you consider yourself a Republican, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to double-check your registration status. Gov. Jon Huntsman, who served from 2005-09 and is running again, collected some 60,000 signatures to secure a spot on the primary ballot. More than half of those were invalidated by the State Elections Office, many because they weren’t officially affiliated with the GOP. If you think you are a Republican but the voter rolls don’t show that you are, no ballot is coming to your mailbox.

If you count yourself among the voters who have been a Republican in the past but left the party because of what it has become nationally, might I suggest holding your nose and rejoining the party long enough to cast a ballot in this year’s primary? If not, you won’t get a ballot and you will be, as one may say, uninvited to the party.

Even if you are a Democrat who plans to vote for your party’s candidate in November, you can temporarily switch parties to vote for the candidate you would be most willing to support, should the Democratic candidate lose in November.

The good news is, checking your registration and party affiliation status is easy. You can check and update your registration at vote.utah.gov. The process takes less than five minutes. Once you have cast your ballot, you are free to follow the same process to change your party affiliation back. But don’t put it off, the deadline to register is fast approaching.

The primary election process is more important in Utah than the general election. For better or for worse, the ballot you cast this summer has a bigger impact on your daily life than the one you cast in November. And Utahns should take part in the primary, if for no other reason than because it serves as an opportunity to minimize the power of the 4,000 ultra-conservative Republican delegates who had their say just this past weekend.

In 2016, they voted for businessman Jonathan Johnson who was soundly defeated two months later by Gov. Gary Herbert en route to his reelection. Two years later, delegates forced my friend, Sen. Mitt Romney, into a primary election, which he won going away. Long gone are the days when delegates accurately reflected the will of the people and primary elections are where mainstream Republicans and middle-ground Utahns have their say.

If you are concerned about how Utah’s economy will bounce back from the pandemic; if you dive deep into the details of tax reform; if you care about the cost of health care; if you want smaller class sizes at your kid’s school or you care about air quality, now is the time to make sure your voice is heard.

I’ll be changing my registration to make sure I have a say in who our next governor is and I encourage you to do the same. Take a few minutes and make sure you get a ballot for the election that really makes a difference.

Kem Gardner

Kem Gardner is the founder and chairman of The Gardner Company.