State lawmakers should fully fund a statewide presidential primary election next year for two reasons.
The first is the one most often heard. It is that Utah, a politically insignificant state, would attract candidates who, while here, would be forced to address issues of local concern. This is a valid reason, but it is one that easily can be exaggerated. Whatever attention Utah attracts next February will be diluted by the number of states that decide to hold a primary on that date. That list is growing. However, Utah is guaranteed to receive more attention than it would without a primary, or than if lawmakers decide to hold a cheaper "preference poll" that doesn't use modern electronic voting equipment.
The second reason is the most compelling. It is that a full-fledged primary would give Utah voters a chance to voice their preferences early in a race that is wide open for both parties. Americans have not faced a presidential election without a sitting president or vice president on the ballot since 1952. The last time it happened before that was in 1928.
Clearly, this is something that comes along once a generation, or less. It would be a shame to let voters elsewhere in the country whittle down the eligible candidates, leaving Utahns to choose in the fall among the finalists everyone else has selected.
That typically is what happens, not only in Utah but in many other states. For some reason, the election system evolved in such a way that New Hampshire and Iowa get a disproportionate say in the fortunes of presidential candidates.
Originally, Utah had planned to be part of a Western States Primary on Feb. 5, which was to include only Rocky Mountain states and was intended to draw attention to an area of the country often overlooked in presidential politics. But now California has decided to move its primary to Feb. 5, and more than a dozen other states are considering it, as well. The nation may well end up with a super primary on that day.
That dilutes Utah's role, for sure. But it would be a shame for Utah voters to be left out of the big day.
Lawmakers need to provide $2.5 million to make a Utah primary happen. With state coffers literally overflowing with money, this seems an insignificant amount. In terms of granting Utahns a role in national politics, however, it's an investment the state can't afford to miss.