Weber County caucus and primary election systems debated

A ballot dropoff site is shown in this November 2017 photo at the Weber Center in Ogden. Three Weber County Republicans filed a civil suit in 2018 against a rival Republican activist accusing him of hacking their phones and computers during a State Central Committee meeting.

Allegations of illegal phone hacking and charges of racism are flying as Utah Republican infighting rages on over the caucus and primary election system.

The U.S. Supreme Court in March declined to hear the Utah Republican Party’s bid to overturn 2014’s Senate Bill 54, which gave candidates the ability to gather signatures to gain places on primary election ballots.

The unsuccessful five-year fight by the party tried to preserve the exclusivity of the caucus and convention system and shoot down the Count My Vote effort, a drive that ultimately resulted in SB 54.

But animosities still may run deep, as evidenced by a lawsuit being pursued by three Weber County members of the GOP State Central Committee.

Current committee member Robert McEntee and former members Lynda Pipkin and Elizabeth Carlin allege a party activist who supported the signature-gathering method orchestrated a scheme at a committee meeting on Sept. 9, 2017, to hack their phones and computers.

In the U.S. District Court civil case, the Weber County trio accuses the activist, Daryl Acumen of Salt Lake County, and a technology provider, Giles Witherspoon, of intercepting text messages and other data during the meeting in North Salt Lake.

“Acumen’s intended purpose ... was to use any information gained to help him and other Count My Vote supporters frustrate or gain an advantage over plaintiffs and their allies,” the plaintiffs said in their amended complaint filed in December 2018.

“Acumen expressed on multiple occasions his strong dislike, even hatred, toward plaintiffs and their allies ...,” the suit said.

“The plaintiffs felt they were wronged and they basically felt a duty to pursue a lawsuit,” the group’s attorney, Seth Needs, said this week.

In an interview Tuesday, Acumen denied the hacking allegations and asserted that technical problems suffered by committee members during the meeting were actually caused by caucus system defenders he said were attacking the meeting network.

‘CONTEMPT IS A GOOD WORD ...’

“I don’t think hatred is a good word,” Acumen said when asked about his attitude toward caucus defenders, sometimes referred to as the Gang of 51.

“I just think everything they do is counterproductive,” Acumen said. “I’d say contempt is a good word for these people.”

He said they have wasted the party’s energy and finances “on ridiculous extremist fights to save the stupid caucus system.”

Acumen said an organization he started, Integrity Matters LLC, is focusing on identifying active, unaffiliated voters around the state — voters he said could help reverse election losses the party suffered in 2018.

“I’m actually doing the work while they’re sucking their thumbs and toes,” Acumen said of the other faction. “I don’t have time for this petty b.s.”

He added, “My data will be critical in winning the Fourth District back,” referring to the Mia Love congressional seat the GOP narrowly lost to Democrat Ben McAdams last year.

He said the hacking suit “is going to get dismissed sooner or later. It’s a childish, prepubescent social media vendetta, is what it is.”

‘UNDERCURRENT OF RACISM’

Acumen is a member of the Utah Republican Black Assembly, a party auxiliary that also has been a subject of contention in the party.

Asked whether that has any relation to the hacking lawsuit, he said it does.

“I dance around this all the time ... I absolutely think there is an undercurrent of racism in the Republican Party. There are definitely racists in this party. They don’t say it overtly, they’re really careful, but honestly I am sick of it.”

Witherspoon, his co-defendant in the suit, is half black, Acumen said.

The outspoken Acumen said, “It drives them crazy, a conservative black man.”

Asked about Acumen’s comments, Needs said, “Bad things did happen at that meeting. It is definitely not a frivolous lawsuit.”

As for the allegations of racism, Needs said, “I haven’t seen any talk or racial comments from anyone I’ve worked with on this.”

‘ABSOLUTELY A VIOLATION OF MY PRIVACY’

Pipkin, who was the Weber County Republican chair in 2017, on Thursday denied the suit was a vendetta against Acumen or there was anything racist about it.

“I started pushing for this because it was absolutely a violation of my privacy for someone to spy on my phone conversations,” Pipkin said. “That’s what started it.”

Efforts to reach McEntee and Carlin were unsuccessful.

The dual path system for candidates to reach the primary election ballot — by caucus, signatures, or both — “has been decided by the courts,” Weber County Republican Chairman Ryan Wilcox said Thursday. “We’re moving forward under the law as it stands as a party. That’s the reality.”

Attorney Todd Weiler, of Woods Cross, who represents Acumen in the civil suit, declined to discuss the case.

But Weiler, who’s also a Republican state senator, said the SB 54 issue is settled, at least for now.

“I think most people are content with dual path,” he said.

The Gang of 51 side, he said, “clearly have lost a lot of their influence” and have lost seats on the State Central Committee.

As for the hacking lawsuit, the case has entered the often time-consuming discovery phase of pretrial litigation.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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