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Weber County Republicans to consider change to candidate-selection rules

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 4, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Lorraine Brown speaks at a meeting of the Weber County Republican Women group at the Ice Sheet in Ogden on Sept. 13, 2021.

The debate over how Weber County Republicans pick their candidates simmers on.

Weber County Republican Party leaders will again take up a proposed change to party bylaws that would eliminate the distinction between candidates who gather signatures to get on the ballot and those who solely go through the party convention. The issue is to be debated at a meeting on Tuesday of the party’s Central Committee, placed on the agenda by Lorraine Brown, the party’s secretary.

As is, the bylaws favor those who go solely through the convention process, a point of intense public debate among GOPers here and across Utah since at least 2018. Specifically, a convention-only candidate in Weber County only needs to muster 30% of the vote at the party convention in a race against a candidate also seeking a place on the ballot via signatures to get on the primary ballot. A candidate seeking a place on the ballot via signatures and at the party convention, by contrast, must garner more than 50% of the vote at a convention to get on the primary ballot via that route.

“You’re undermining the vote. Just let the delegates vote,” argues Brown, an Ogden lawyer. Per her proposed change, any candidate who musters more than 60% backing at convention would make it to the general election ballot. If no candidate breaks 60%, the top two vote-getters would go to the GOP primary, regardless of whether they’re also seeking a place on the ballot via signatures.

Brown, who brought the issue up in 2020 after her one-vote loss at the Weber County Republican Party convention in her bid for a place on the primary ballot in the race that year for the District 10 Utah House seat, acknowledges her effort is a long shot.

“It may fail, but I also think this is in the best interest of the county party,” she said.

That is, she thinks the deciding factor in picking candidates at GOP conventions should solely be the vote of the party delegates, not whether candidates are also vying for a ballot spot via signatures. Making it tougher at party conventions for those also going the signature route, she said, amounts to “a power grab by the party elite.”

Utah law allows candidates to bypass the convention process and get on the primary ballot if they muster a pre-set number of signatures from registered voters. Candidates may also try to get on the ballot using both mechanisms, signatures and party convention.

Such proposals for change have come up before in Weber County, only to be voted down, said Brown. Jake Sawyer, the chairperson of the Weber County Republican Party, said the same proposal came up last month at a meeting of the Weber County Republican Party Executive Committee and was defeated “almost unanimously.”

Proponents say making the sort of change sought by Brown creates “an even playing field” among GOP hopefuls, Sawyer said. Foes point to what they see as the shortcomings of the signature-gathering process, mainly that it allows candidates to bypass the vetting of GOP delegates at party conventions.

Brown also lamented what she says is the “cult of Trump” in the Weber County Republican Party, alluding to former President Donald Trump. Some Republicans, she said, are questioning their affiliation with the party because of the controversial former president.

“Every week, I receive emails from people who want to have their name removed from the Republican Party,” Brown said. The divergent views among party members toward Trump has created a divide that she says weakens the party.

Eighteen party officials serve on the party’s executive committee, the body that turned back Brown’s proposal last month. Around 200 to 300 serve on the central committee, which also includes precinct chairs and vice chairs, though Sawyer is expecting 100 to 150 voting participants to show up to Tuesday’s meeting.

The Central Committee meeting starts with registration at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Pleasant Valley Branch library at 5568 S. Adams Ave. in Washington Terrace. Officials will also debate rules to govern the party convention next year, among other things.

Brown’s proposed changes, if approved, would be in effect during next year’s election process.


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