Utah Republicans decided at their convention on Saturday to keep their system in place for choosing party nominees. A proposal to raise the percentage of votes needed to avoid a primary sparked heated debate about how best to give lesser-known candidates a fair shot.
Enid Mickelsen was the first Republican woman elected to congress from Utah. When she was running for office, a candidate had to get 70 percent of delegate votes at convention in order to clinch the party nomination and avoid a primary election. Mickelsen says it was a mistake to lower that threshold to 60 percent as it is today.
“When I ran 18 years ago for Congress, I ran as an unknown – against two sitting members of the legislature. I am trying to make certain that other people have the same opportunity that I was given,” Mickelsen says.
But Jacqueline Smith who ran against Congressman Rob Bishop in last year’s election argued that raising the threshold will mean incumbent candidates will not have to campaign for delegate votes, and will create what she called “flyover counties”.
“Big money will attempt to simply get enough votes to force a primary, and this will hurt our republic. We are not a democracy. We are a republic, and if we stop using our republican system, we will end our Republican Party,” Smith says.
A faction of Utah Republicans known as the “Count My Vote” group has threatened to put a ballot initiative before voters next year to overhaul the system if the threshold wasn’t raised. Their initiative would allow candidates that gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on a primary ballot and bypass the convention nominating system.