Mitt Romney part of push to hold presidential primary rather than caucus in Utah

Posted at 5:11 PM, Mar 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-05 19:11:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah may hold a presidential primary in 2016. A House committee signed off on House Bill 329—a bill that former presidential candidate Mitt Romney pushed for in hopes of turning out more voters in Utah.

The Utah Republican Party plans to hold a caucus rather than a primary,  which is a move Romney criticized in a letter made public Wednesday.

Romney said in part: “Every Utah voter deserves to have their vote counted in the selection of the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016. It is among the most critical responsibilities and privileges of citizenship."

State GOP Chairman James Evans said the caucus route will bring in more voters. He said people will be able skip neighborhood meetings where they vet candidates and vote online instead.

Evans said: “We are administering our own primary is what we're doing, and we're introducing technology much faster than the state's willing to do it."

Evans still supported the bill despite his advocating for a caucus, saying he didn't want other political parties in the state to lose out on this option. Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim, is the sponsor of HB 329, and he said they are looking at the best way to proceed.

“Certainly we can find something that encourages more participation,” he said. “What that actually looks like is still under negotiations.”

Under the proposed bill, Utah’s presidential primary would move from the first Tuesday in February to the fourth Tuesday in March, which in 2016 is March 22. It also gives political parties the option to participate, if lawmakers fund the election—which has a $3 million price tag.

The bill would also allow military members serving abroad and those with disabilities to vote online. While the committee was mostly on board with the proposal, there were some concerns.

“I'm not ready to commit three million dollars to a primary when I see that, in my view, there are too darn many primaries around the country, and I don't know if Utah needs to participate,” said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan.

Cox responded to that statement: “My counter argument to that would be: If you're tired of primaries, is your response that Utahns just shouldn't have a voice in that process? I don't think that's an effective argument.”

Committee members approved the bill, which will now go before the full House for consideration.