By Richard Davis
On June 30, Utahns are being told, voters will select the next governor of the state. That sounds strange since this is not November and June 30 is not the date of the general election. Yet, recent history suggests that is so. No Democrat has been elected governor of Utah in the past 40 years. In fact, rarely have they come close. The last time a Democratic candidate for governor got above 40% was Scott Matheson in 2004. In recent years, Democratic candidates for governor have won less than a third of the vote.
That’s why so many voters (40,000 in the last month, according to the Utah Elections Office) have switched to vote in the GOP primary election. It isn’t because they are Republicans. It is due to the fact they want to have a voice in who is the governor.
That shouldn’t be. Voters should not have to register with a party they don’t really support in order to participate in the electoral process. They shouldn’t have to register with any party or, if they wish to, should be able to register with whatever party they want.
Is there a way to change this situation? Yes, force the Republican party to open its primary election to all voters. And what if they won’t, which is likely? Then stop paying for their primary election.
Even though political parties essentially are private organizations and can determine their own governance and nomination processes, the state subsidizes those nomination processes by paying for their primary elections. In other words, voters fund a party’s primary, even though they can’t participate in it. They pay for an election they can’t vote in.
Can the state do something about that? Yes, it could. The state has power to regulate political parties. The state has determined that a political party has to meet certain deadlines to get on the ballot. It has dictated that a party must allow signature gathering to get on the primary ballot if it wants to be a qualified political party. It has set rules on what a political party must do to be created and mandated that changes of bylaws must be reported to the state. So, the state already does regulate political parties in some ways.
So, can the state then tell a political party that it must open its primary to get state funding? Can the state actually not fund a party’s primary election? Yes, it has done it before. In 2004, the state legislature declined to fund presidential primary elections. Since President George W. Bush was the presumed nominee, Republican legislators refused to fund an election just for Democrats. The Democrats had to run their own election and it was an expensive proposition for the party. If Republicans faced the same dilemma, they would quickly change their policies about closed primaries.
Will the legislature agree to defund the primary election of a party that will not open its primary to all voters? Not likely. That is why there is another solution for Utah voters. That is to elect legislators who will do so. The United Utah Party believes that public money should not be spent on a primary election that is not open to all voters.
We believe the publicly funded closed primary is like taxation without representation. That’s why we believe all taxpayers who pay for an election who are eligible voters (regardless of party affiliation) should be able to participate in that election.
It is time for Utah voters to put in office those legislators who will reflect the public’s will. Obviously, many people want to have their voice heard in an election. Some are even willing to switch parties to accomplish that. We believe they shouldn’t have to. And if UUP candidates are elected, they will work to make sure voters won’t have to in the future.