SALT LAKE CITY — One of the former GOP hopefuls for the 1st District U.S. House seat and another Republican hopeful for a Utah Senate seat — still irked at how the Utah Republican Party convention unfolded last April — seek change to aid write-in hopefuls.
State election officials, meantime, are balking. The rules governing write-in candidates are already spelled out in state law and the proposed changes could result in an additional, unexpected expense for county election officials, among other things.
Tina Cannon, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in the 1st District U.S. House race earlier this year, sent the request to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office along with Marci Campbell, a GOP hopeful in the District 23 Utah Senate seat.
“There were many legal issues that arose during the primary process, with most of them remaining unaddressed. Rights of citizens, delegates and candidates were violated during this time,” reads the letter, dated Aug. 24. The decision to eliminate caucuses last spring to select Republican Party delegates to the convention is at the heart of their concerns — delegates picked in 2018 were tapped instead — along with snafus in getting delegate information to candidates.
The decision to go with delegates picked in 2018 aimed to guard against the spread of COVID-19 that could have occurred had caucuses been held. Regardless, the June 30 primary elections “were significantly marred,” the letter reads.
Delegates picked the official GOP hopefuls for the primary ballot at the virtual April 25 Utah Republican Party convention and both Cannon and Campbell fell short in their bid to get on the primary ballot. Campbell, from Bountiful, said she’s now waging a write-in bid against Todd Weiler, the incumbent and April 25 GOP convention winner in the District 23 Utah Senate race, which figures in the call for change in rules governing the write-in process.
Cannon, a member of the Morgan County Council and one of 12 GOP U.S. House hopefuls who vied in the convention last April, acknowledges the challenges party officials faced in adjusting to COVID-19. Still, she has her doubts in how things turned out. “I still believe they tried to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean it was a fair process,” she said.
Kerry Gibson came out on top in GOP convention balloting in the 1st District U.S. House contest, but Blake Moore, the second-place finisher, ultimately won the GOP primary in June. He faces Democrat Darren Parry in the race to replace Rep. Rob Bishop, the incumbent who’s not seeking reelection, heading to Election Day, Nov. 3.
Last week’s letter to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office suggests that the delegates used in the 2020 convention weren’t necessarily in sync with the candidates this cycle. As they had been picked in 2018, many were tabbed “to vote specifically for a candidate during the 2018 election,” the letter reads. Moreover, the letter charges, delegate lists to candidates were incomplete at times. Contacting delegates ahead of the GOP convention is key in garnering support.
Though not seeking any sort of redress related to the convention and primary process, the letter asks for change to aid write-in hopefuls. “The write-in candidate option is available for times such as this, as a check and balance when unforeseen circumstances inhibit the traditional pathways to the ballot, as COVID-19 has affected the 2020 election process,” the letter reads.
More specifically, it asks that the names of write-in hopefuls be included in the mailings when mail-in ballots are sent to voters. The letter also asks that information on write-in hopefuls be included in voter information packets.
In a written response to Cannon and Campbell, Justin Lee, director of elections in the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said state law does not require county election officials to identify write-in hopefuls when sending mail-in ballots. “Our office would not instruct a county clerk to include something with the ballot that is not required by law,” Lee’s letter reads.
Moreover, including an insert in the mail-in ballot with write-in hopefuls’ names could cost $150,000 statewide. Counties haven’t budgeted for such an expense “and it would be unfair to place an additional fiscal burden on any county when the law does not require it,” Lee wrote.
Due to budget cuts implemented earlier this year by state lawmakers, Lee went on, voter information packets are no longer required when sending mail-in ballots.
Two write-in hopefuls are seeking the 1st District U.S. House seat, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office website, Mikal Smith and Taylor Lee, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in the race.
Utah Republican Party reps didn’t immediately respond to queries seeking comment.