Candidates seek alternate route to election
March 22, 2016
In the past, candidates for county, state and federal seats have used caucuses as a way to mingle with their constituents and enlist delegate support to become their party’s nominee at the respective conventions.
This year, however, candidates can bypass the caucuses and conventions by taking the new signature-gathering route to automatically qualify for the primary election in June.
Several of Utah’s legislative candidates, including the governor, indicated before the filing window closed last Thursday that they have chosen to collect the required amount of signatures for their party to avoid being disqualified during the conventions.
S.B. 54, passed during the 2014 legislative session, allows candidates of registered political parties to seek nomination through the party’s convention process, by collecting a set amount of signatures or both.
Candidates were required to collect 1,000 and 2,000 signatures for the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate, respectively, to be guaranteed spots on the primary ballot. Only signatures from registered voters within the candidate’s district and party are valid.
Rep. Kraig Powell, a Heber City Republican whose district includes Park City, is one of the candidates who chose to collect signatures. Powell, who is seeking his fifth term representing District 54, said he decided on the alternate route because it encourages more involvement in the political process.
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"I believe more in the majority than in minority rule and think our process is much better served when a broad selection of citizens are the ones making the choice of who our party’s nominees will be," Powell said regarding the caucus/convention system. "Essentially, it’s 37 people who decide who will be the nominee for the House seat and there are 37,000 who live in my district.
"The vast majority of cases in Utah, the way our system has worked previously, rarely go to a primary election," Powell said. "I believe the candidates are much more representative of their constituents when they are being chosen by voters."
Powell and nearly 50 volunteers spent the better part of January and the first few days of February collecting 1,013 signatures. Powell said the process was time consuming and difficult because the volunteers had to know which voters could sign.
"Many candidates throughout the state paid money to have companies gather the signatures for them, but I don’t believe that is the purpose. I think it is supposed to be more of a grassroots effort," Powell said. "I gathered several hundred of the signatures myself and I think it is a good and healthy process because you do get to meet so many people."
On Monday, Powell said he received certification from Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox’s office to be on the primary ballot. Powell said he planned to attend Tuesday’s caucus, but not as a candidate, even though he is registered.
"The delegates will not be voting on me and my understanding is that my name will not even appear on the convention or caucus ballots," Powell said.
Powell’s challenger, Republican Tim Quinn, an owner of a company that sells pharmaceuticals and lives just outside of Heber City, had declared his intent to gather signatures and will instead seek nomination through the convention, according to the lieutenant governor’s election website. However, the website indicated Quinn did not collect any signatures and will be participating in the caucuses and conventions.
Powell continued to stress the importance of the caucus and convention process to increase involvement in the party and inform constituents about the party’s platforms. However, he said he also supports gathering signatures as a way of encouraging results to be more representative of the electorate.
"A primary election will mean we have much more democratic results in our election, not just in my race, but all throughout the state and that’s why I support it," Powell said. "I just don’t believe that small minority of delegates should be the ones to make the ultimate decision about the nominee. That’s my only criticism I would have about the system, but I hope that it continues forward and I plan to attend those in the future."
Other candidates following the alternative route
Utah Rep. Mel Brown, a Republican from Coalville representing District 53, also chose to collect signatures for his campaign and has qualified for the primary election. Brown was elected to the Legislature in 2007 after serving a lengthy stint from 1987 until 2000. He collected 1,000 signatures.
Brown is facing opposition within his party from Seth Winterton and Logan Wilde, who have both chosen to go the convention route.
Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert has collected 28,005 of the 28,000 required signatures for his office and qualifies as a candidate for governor. Herbert’s opponents within his party are: Nate G. Jensen, Johnathan Johnson and Carlos J. Tavares Jr.
Both Brown and Herbert also registered to participate in the caucus and conventions.
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