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Election calendar to change?

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GOP legislative leaders are talking about changing Utah's campaign, convention and election calendar this year in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on whether Utah gets a fourth U.S. House seat.

Leaders would change Utah election law to have a campaign season begin in early July, when candidates would file for federal, state and local offices. State party conventions would be held in late July and the primary in late-August.

In the current calendar, the filing deadline is in March and the primary in June. Under the change being considered, the general election would still be the first Tuesday in November.

But the truncated campaign and election season could have its benefits. It could reduce the cost of some campaigns and it "may be liked by the public — they wouldn't hear from us so much," said House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton.

The high court will hear Utah's Census appeal March 27. The court usually delivers all of its decisions before it adjourns for the summer in June, said Garn, who himself is considering a run in the 1st Congressional District, which will be vacant following the retirement of Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

"We'll know in June whether we get a fourth seat," said Garn. And all the candidate, convention and primary decision dates would then flow toward November.

Utah now has three U.S. House seats and missed getting a fourth seat by 867 people — North Carolina getting the seat instead.

Utah sued in federal court, claiming an unfair method was used by the Census in estimating how many people lived in a house after Census takers couldn't contact anyone in that house. All parties agree if the estimated household numbers are eliminated, North Carolina loses the extra seat, Utah gets a fourth seat.

"We could hold a special election" for Congress, said Garn, after the high court's ruling, should Utah get the fourth seat. But that seems the most messy solution, he added.

"We're looking at doing something this session" to change the election dates, he said.

If lawmakers did nothing until the high court ruled, some 15 or 20 candidates running for Congress could start running in one district, one geographic area, only to find out later should Utah get a fourth seat.

Campaign time and money would be wasted. And May state conventions by the Republican and Democratic parties could pick some candidates, only to have to meet again after the June high court's decision to elect new candidates to new districts, or old candidates to new districts.

It would be messy, Garn said. But that doesn't bother Rep. John Swallow, R-Sandy, who is challenging Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Salt Lake, in the 2nd Congressional District. If Utah prevailed in its appeal, he would be in the new 4th District.

"We know where we are running now. If we get a fourth seat we should come into special session and decide what to do," he said. "But I'm not going weigh in on this because of my conflict of interest."

Senate Minority Whip Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, was considering running for the 1st District also but has since decided not to. "This moving of the election dates may be the best way to handle this," Allen said Tuesday.

As of now, any change would affect only the 2002 election year, while the current calendar of a March candidate filing deadline and a June primary would return in 2004 and beyond.

But for some time, some citizen groups have advocated moving the Utah June primary to August or September, claiming June is too early for such a vote and the low primary voter turn out is the result. Utah used to hold its primaries in September.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com