Primary Elections – How They Work in Utah

Primary elections are one of those things that managed to confuse me. Presidential primaries have their own processes, candidates, political party voting requirements, and deadlines. Local primaries have different candidates, deadlines, and also political party state requirements. And that’s all before the general election in November.

I don’t know why I was confused….

I tried looking on vote.utah.gov to kind of sort things out better, but couldn’t find anything that clearly explained all of these different elections (presidential primary, state primary, general elections).

At any rate, here’s hoping I can add some clarity.  As a note to those who already have a good handle on this topic, feel free to add to the conversation in the comments. We can all benefit from your knowledge!

Primary Elections – Generally Speaking

Primary elections are only necessary (before the general election) if for a given position, more than one person is stepping forward from the same political party. Each political party is allowed only one nominee, one person, to represent them on the ballot for each elected position. The primary election is a way for political parties, and those voting in their primaries, to pick their favorite. 

If only one candidate steps forward for each position, there would be no need for a primary. Those individuals would simply advance to the general election

Utah’s Presidential Primary Election

Because each state handles the presidential primaries and state primaries in their own way, Utah separates the presidential election from our state primary elections. Utah currently offers mail-in ballots (issued by the county clerk) to voters based on political party affiliation. Republican primaries are all closed primaries, limited only to registered members. All of the other political parties in the state conduct open primaries, allowing all registered voters to participate. Voters can also vote in-person on voting day. The same party affiliation restrictions apply.

The last day to participate in the 2020 PRESIDENTIAL primary in Utah is March 3. Ballots sent by mail must be postmarked by March 2nd.

(Note: United Utah has written additional provisions into their bylaws regarding the question of a presidential candidate. This will be addressed in a separate post.)

More About Presidential Primary Elections Nationwide

Once all of the individual state primary elections are done, there is a national convention to present a nominee for the general election. These conventions are held every four years, in line with when we elect a new president. Delegates from each state attend this big meeting and cast their vote for the candidate who won in their state. Each state determines the rules for how delegates vote, either reflecting the proportional results of their primary election (you guys vote for the first place winner, you guys vote for the second place winner, etc) or as a winner-take all (all of you vote for this one person).

When the national convention is done, the nominee is selected and then formally accepts the nomination. That one candidate (and chosen running mate) move on to the general election. 

2020 Presidential Primary Elections

The presidential primary for the Democratic party is currently the most intense this election cycle. More than the usual amount of candidates are hoping for the Democratic party nomination. With the number of candidates, the Democratic party has conducted a fair number of debates to help voters decide whom they like better. 

The Republican party has a handful of candidates on their primary ballot, but there aren’t any debates or any real contenders (as far as the public is concerned). That’s because President Donald Trump is able to run for a second term and he is pretty much the one who will win the nomination. It’s pretty rare, though not impossible, that the incumbent (the person currently in the position) doesn’t get the nomination. 

Iowa and New Hampshire have already finished their primary elections for all political parties registered in their state (specifically the Republicans and Democrats). From now until the national conventions, there will be more state primaries. Utah votes on what’s called “Super Tuesday” when 17 states conduct their presidential primary.

Utah State Primary Election

STATE primary elections are determined by state and local political party conventions. Remember, a primary election is only necessary if more than one candidate competes for an elected position within a given political party.

At these conventions, party delegates (selected based on the party’s bylaws) vote on candidates. If a candidate receives a certain percentage of votes, they either win the nomination, or qualify for a primary election. Thresholds and rules are determined by the political party. In the case when there is clear winner, the qualifying candidates move on to the primary election.

In Utah there is another way to get on the primary ballot of a political party. If a candidate does not achieve the necessary percentage of votes at the convention, the candidate is allowed to get their name on the ballot through signature gathering. Those who meet the requirements are allowed to have their name added.

For those political parties conducting a state and local primary election in 2020, voting ends June 30 (last day for state and local primary elections).

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