SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are looking at moving the state's June primary election to as late as September to give Republicans more time to select their party's candidates.
Next year, there's just over four weeks between the March caucus night meetings to choose delegates and the state party convention in April where the delegates elect candidates, an even more compressed schedule than usual.
State GOP Chairman James Evans told House Republicans recently unless the primary is moved, the party's state convention will be held the day before Easter and some county conventions will occur during LDS General Conference.
But because the state sets both the candidate filing deadline in March and the primary in June, the convention dates can't be moved and still meet the state deadline for submitting candidate names for the ballot.
Evans said moving the primary election to July, August or September would allow the conventions to be held in May or June, giving candidates an extra month or two to campaign for delegate support.
The only other option for expanding the time for campaigning is to hold caucus night much earlier, either this October or in January or February 2014, Evans said, but the convention dates would stay the same.
Plus, the new state party leader said, participation in the caucuses could decrease because delegates would be picked long before candidates have to file to run and, if they're held in winter, because of weather issues.
Evans said he has no preference for dealing with the issue, noting there is always the option of leaving the current election calendar in place. But he asked House Republicans to let him know by September if they want to move the primary.
"My whole approach to this is we can prepare for any eventuality, but we need time to do it," Evans said. "There are plenty of Republicans in Utah, and I'm sure everyone will be giving their input."
House Republicans, who hold a 61-14 majority, listened to Evans' presentation but took no action. Neither did the Senate GOP caucus after a similar presentation by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork.
Moving the primary, Henderson said, is one way to solve the problems caused by a condensed election calendar. "I'm not sure we'll do it," she said, describing herself as "not knee-jerked opposed to moving the primary election."
While Republicans are expected to continue discussing the issue, Democrats have yet to start. State Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Lyon said he has only talked with his GOP counterpart about the proposed primary date change.
"I'm not opposed to it directly. I don't know," Lyon said. "We just need to look at it a little deeper."
Maintaining voter interest in elections is important to both Republicans and Democrats because the state's unique caucus and convention system is being challenged by Count My Vote.
The group of prominent Republicans, which includes former Gov. Mike Leavitt and political consultant LaVarr Webb, who writes a column for the Deseret News, is expected to launch an initiative petition drive to change the system.
Switching to an open primary or another alternative to the caucus and convention system will boost voter participation in elections, which has been declining for years, the group claims.
Primary elections were held in Utah in August or September until 1993, when they were moved to the fourth Tuesday in June. Municipal election primaries are held in August.
A later primary can make it more difficult for the winning candidate to raise money for a general election, Evans said. But a later primary also enhances the candidate's name recognition and strengthens his or her campaign organization.
State Elections Director Mark Thomas the difficulties with the election calendar next year were already discussed when the law was changed in 2009 to comply with a federal act requiring ballots to be prepared 45 days before an election.
Thomas, who is also the state lieutenant governor's chief deputy, said options for changing the calendar came up then, including moving the primary election date, but there was little interest.
"It's nothing new," he said. "We've already hashed it out."
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