Fresh from its successful drive to gerrymander congressional districts in Utah so as to make it nigh onto impossible for Republicans to lose any of them, the state’s GOP is considering another step in its Long March toward the creation of a state government that resembles nothing so much as the Chinese Politburo.
That’s a system where everyone can vote, but they don’t have any choice of who to vote for.
Amassing more power is something politicians are tempted to do when they already have almost all of the power. The people of Utah, and the more reasonable members of the Republican Party, should make it clear that they’ve had more than enough of this anti-democratic impulse.
As we learned Tuesday from Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Bryan Schott, Republican Utah GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen is planning another run at removing the state law that requires political parties to allow candidates to win a spot on primary ballots by gathering signatures on a petition as an alternative to seeking the nomination through party caucuses and conventions.
The current two-track process was put into state elections law in 2014 with Senate Bill 54. It replaced a system where the only path to a party’s line on the ballot was through a caucus and convention system. That method slanted the whole process toward far-right true believers who not only don’t represent the principles and interests of most Utahns but are also out of sync with more moderate Republicans.
SB54 was once favored by many Republicans — enough to get it passed by the Republican super-majority in the Legislature — due to concern that the party was slanting too far to the right. It was aso seen as pushback against a move by activists that would have eliminated the convention system altogether in favor of the petition route.
But buyer’s remorse sank in quickly. Party leaders have tried, without success, to sue SB54 away. They even passed a rule to deny candidates who go the signature route the right to call themselves Republicans. But the rule was never enforced for fear of leaving the GOP line on the ballot blank.
Jorgensen would like the Legislature to allow parties to use the convention system only, with the proviso that a candidate has to win 66% percent of a county or state convention vote to avoid a primary and to go straight to the November election ballot. That is still 66% of only about 3,000 people, representing an increasingly anti-democratic faction of an already unrepresentative party, choosing candidates that, due to gerrymandering and Republican dominance, become a lock to hold statewide offices. Nobody else’s vote matters.
Unlike some other red states — looking at you, Texas and Georgia — Utah is not big on voter suppression. We have easy voter registration, near-universal vote-by-mail, early voting and ID requirements that are not unreasonable. In recent years, voter turnout has been high and complaints rare. Such worthies as Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson are rightly proud of how it all works here.
What Utah has instead is candidate suppression. Between gerrymandering and the convention system, Utah Republicans have put forth a situation where most people can vote but are often likely not to bother because they don’t like any of the candidates.
(Some of that sad situation can be blamed on the fact that Democrats in Utah have little influence and less money. Of course, this not likely to get better as long as Republicans keep building their one-party state.)
Answering critics of the latest redistricting, Cox said that people who don’t like the outcome of any legislative process just need to become more active politically in hopes of getting a better result next time.
If one is not paying that much attention, the governor’s admonition is obvious. But it is not possible to out-organize a system that is designed to keep the powerful in power and further insulate them from the will of the people.
Cox is among the Republican leaders who should expend some of their political capital to halt any effort to make elections in Utah less democratic.
Voters should let their members of the Utah Legislature know how they feel. While those members still have to pretend that they care how their constituents feel.