It's Time to Do the Right Thing, Governor Herbert
Our election process this year is in peril, and Governor Herbert is putting his thumb on the scale.
You could say that this election cycle is not the most important issue right now, and you'd be right. COVID-19 is affecting our lives in ways we didn't fully anticipate, and that should be our main focus. But it doesn't mean that ignoring election parity is a good idea, either, especially if doing so clearly and monumentally advantages Governor Herbert's favored candidate, while disadvantaging all of us Utahns by unnecessarily narrowing our choices come November.
I understand keenly the power that the Republican Party wields in this state. In the vast majority of Utah legislative districts, whomever gets the Republican nomination knows that his or her success is all but guaranteed in the general election. This means that the effectual general election in most of the races in Utah, including for governor, is the Republican primary election, in which only registered Republicans are allowed to cast a vote. We Utahns got so fed up with our elections being decided by a handful of powerful and unelected Republican Party leaders that it was worth the enormous effort to put together an initiative push called Count My Vote in 2014. This sought an alternative to the caucus process so that more of our voices counted in this state. Utah Republican leadership fought it tooth and nail, even in the court system, but ultimately had to make meager concessions to allow for both a caucus/convention route to the ballot and a signature-gathering route to the ballot.
Fast forward to today, when the deadline to gather the required signatures is fast approaching. But with COVID-19 restrictions (put in place by Governor Herbert), signature gathering is all but impossible. Herbert is turning a deaf ear to cries for fairness in our election system because of this pandemic. Yes, he threw out a bone by authorizing people to find the document online, download, print, sign, scan, and upload their signatures to candidates. Someone like my mom would never be able to do all this on her own, nor could she spend the days it would take her to figure it all out, even with help. Especially since she'd have to find all her help online anyway because of social distancing. And please don't call this a "digital signature," because that requires only a simple click of the mouse.
The inability to gather signatures isn't the only unfairness in these elections. The caucus/convention system is tainted as well, because it's important for candidates to get their supporters voted in as delegates to the convention. Because of COVID-19, the Republican Party is using the same delegates as in the last election cycle, which gives even more advantage to incumbents.
What can Governor Herbert do to level the playing field and not look like he's tipping the scales in favor of his lieutenant governor? One idea would be to extend the timeframe that signatures can be gathered, but it looks like we'll be socially distancing for at least another month or two. The primary can also be delayed, but that doesn't give a remedy to those who haven't been allowed the time to gather signatures.
A much better idea is to place everyone on the primay ballot and use ranked-choice voting. Republicans are already using this method for their convention; why not for the primary? This would limit the typical race to the fringes in the party because candidates would need to woo a much larger base if they want a share of those second place votes. This still doesn't solve the problem of the public paying for a Republican primary that we don't get to participate in unless we are a registered Republican, but that's a discussion for another day.
Whatever happens, it needs to happen quickly. If Governor Herbert wants to avoid the appearance of unfairly helping his favored candidate, Lt. Governor Cox, he should do something meaningful, and the sooner the better. The longer he drags his feet, the more we can question his motives.