Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Utah Democrats Appear Headed for March 22 Caucuses in 2016 ...and online voting?

With a presidential primary option now off the table in Utah in 2016, Democrats are eyeing March 22 as the date of their precinct caucuses according to the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. State party delegate selection plans are not due to the Democratic National Committee until May, but Lauren Littlefield provided a bit of a sneak peek at one aspect of it in comments on the 2016 process to Utah Policy.

March 22 caucuses would align Utah Democrats with the primary in southern neighbor, Arizona. That is also the date the Utah presidential primary would have occurred under the provisions of the bill that failed to pass the legislature during the now-adjourned 2015 legislative session.

The prospective date -- FHQ will call it that until March 22 is confirmed in the forthcoming delegate selection plan -- was not the only bit of news from Littlefield. She also indicated that the party would also work toward facilitating online voting in the 2016 caucuses. Online voting is in vogue in Utah at the proposal stage anyway. It was a component of the 2014 legislation that would have moved Utah to the first position on the presidential primary calendar. In the most recent legislative session, it was a part of the bill to change the February primary option to March. Utah Republicans are also considering adding online voting as an element of their caucuses process in 2016.

And online voting is not expressly forbidden in the DNC delegate selection rules. The catch is that a state party having an online element to their delegate selection process must meet certain conditions first. Where Utah Democrats run afoul of Rule 2.G is in the fact that online voting is limited to state party-run primaries. Utah Democrats appear ready to select and allocate delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia through a caucuses/convention system. The DNC rules are also limiting in that the online vote can only apply to a presidential preference vote and not the other business that would typically occur at precinct caucuses. That conflict also seems relevant in the context of the walk up and mail-in options that are required alongside the online vote. None of that -- other party business at caucuses, providing for online/mail-in votes -- mesh all that well with the caucuses process. That is why absentee and military voting problems continue to be raised in any discussion of the shortcomings of the caucuses/convention process generally.

Utah Democrats could try to pin all of this on state Republicans who control the state government and who scuttled the primary option for 2016. That may open the door being successfully granted a waiver from the DNC to hold online voting. However, the waiver process does not really apply to or address online voting. It is meant to provide relief to state Democratic parties forced to conduct a delegate selection process that in some way breaks the rules (that have penalties for violation). That parenthetical is important. It should be noted that there is no specified penalty for conducting some form of online vote as part of the delegate selection process. Things may get messy certifying those delegates, but that is why it is important to get the blessing of the DNC first.

One other alternative may be for the party to conduct a firehouse primary in conjunction with those March precinct meetings. That is what the Utah Democratic Party did in 2004. And that would better meet the requirements in the DNC rules calling for 1) a primary and 2) a walk up option to be paired with online/mail-in opportunities.

NOTE: FHQ should add that we followed up with Bryan Schott at Utah Policy about his source for the March 22 caucuses date and he confirmed that it came up in the course of his interview with Lauren Littlefield from the Utah Democratic Party.

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