Utah wants first-in-the-nation presidential primary


Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, left, former U.S. senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney during a GOP presidential debate in Concord, N.H., in January 2012. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Move over, Iowa. Scram, New Hampshire. See you later, South Carolina. Utah is the latest state to move toward holding the first presidential primary of the 2016 season.

The Utah state House gave bipartisan blessing Monday to a measure that would move the Beehive State to the head of the pack by holding a primary one week before any other state. And here’s the kicker: Instead of a caucus or an in-person primary, Utah’s primary would be conducted entirely online.

The legislation would require Utah’s lieutenant governor, who runs the state’s elections office, to come up with an online voting system with top-of-the-line security measures. Holding the primary online, the bill’s prime sponsor says, would give Utah the flexibility to move its primary in response to any further calendar shenanigans in other states.

Voting by computer isn’t entirely foreign to the state: Utah already allows members of the military serving overseas to vote online.

Most of all, state Rep. Jon Cox (R) is upset that Utah is so overlooked.

“We’ve created a system that is blatantly discriminatory. It creates second-class states,” Cox told the Salt Lake Tribune. “This isn’t just an issue of presidential candidates not paying attention to us, it’s everyone else.”

Rules passed by the Republican National Committee earlier this year would punish Utah, or any other state that tries to jump ahead of the sacred slots Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada hold. If Utah did hold its primary first, the RNC would cut the number of delegates Utah could send to the national convention from 40 to just nine. The Democratic National Committee hasn’t adopted its rules yet, but it’s likely to install similar penalties.

The bill passed the state House by a 58 to 14 vote on Monday. Even if the Senate acts to pass it, however, it’s unlikely that Utah would succeed in unseating the traditional kickoff states. In recent years, states such as Wyoming have tried to jump to the head of the line, but presidential candidates have avoided showing up there for fear of alienating Iowa or New Hampshire voters.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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