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Opinion: Utah’s rare write-in campaign

The story behind Steve Handy’s write-in campaign began on a chilly evening with low Republican turnout

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Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, speaks at the Utah Legislature’s bipartisan Clean Air Caucus press conference in the Gold Room at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Handy is running a write-in campaign this midterm election to represent District 16.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As Utahns begin reviewing their choices on the ballot, voters in District 16 may want to remember a cold, snowy Tuesday night last March to understand why their current state representative’s name is not on the ballot.

The high on March 8 was 32 degrees, the low 25. As usual, it was dark before dinner. Despite the conditions, Republicans across the state were expected to participate in their local neighborhood caucus. Predictably, fewer than 250 Republicans of more than 11,000 in total living in District 16 were present to elect precinct leadership and select delegates. This historically poor showing led to me being kept off the primary ballot, as 59 delegates decided to support another candidate at the county convention. Across the county, fellow conservative lawmakers were likewise targeted by delegates who preferred rhetoric over results.

I have long supported the caucus system, and despite this outcome, I still believe it plays an important role in our state. This year, however, it didn’t work as intended. Not because I didn’t come out on top, but because only .002% of registered voters played a role in the process. As Republicans we embrace our democratic republic form of government, but it only works when everyone’s voice is present, heard and counted. Fifty-nine people is far from sufficient.

In the days that followed the caucus and convention, Davis County Republicans and constituents came out of the woodwork to express their disappointment. So instead of sitting on the sideline, I launched a write-in campaign to let voters decide. Residents who had to work, couldn’t arrange transportation, had ecclesiastical meetings or didn’t know about caucus night on March 8 shouldn’t be disenfranchised on Nov. 8. This campaign isn’t about me, it’s about giving District 16 a choice and a voice in state government.

As ballots have now arrived, I encourage District 16 voters to turn out and be heard. For the 99.9% of voters in the district that didn’t participate in the Republican caucus, now is your chance to choose who best represents you on the most important issues facing our state. The candidates (two Republicans and a Libertarian; no Democrat) couldn’t be further apart on important issues, such as education, care for senior citizens or if women should be supported in the workplace.

My name might not be on the ballot, but I remain a proud Republican. I stand by my record, which includes voting for more than $300 million in tax cuts, bipartisan success for clean air, improved roads and infrastructure in the busiest parts of Layton, and better protections for women who have suffered, or are at risk of, domestic violence. In total, I have sponsored more than 80 pieces of legislation on behalf of District 16 that later became law. I have earned the support of conservative delegates in prior years, but I have always represented everyone in the district.

While write-in campaigns are difficult and rare, it’s important to note Utah’s electoral process explicitly allows them. As an official write-in candidate, your vote for our campaign will be counted. Facing a similar situation, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska won reelection as a write-in candidate in 2010. If Alaskans can figure out how to write in Murkowski, I’m confident District 16 residents can remember Steve Handy.

State Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, is running a write-in campaign for reelection in District 16.