State party conventions will be held this Saturday. Election dynamics make the Republican gathering historic and impactful, and it will illustrate the positives and negatives of the current nomination process. Since your columnists have been engaged observers of this unique American activity for half a century, we offer our perspectives.

A large percentage of federal and state candidates in competitive contests have secured placement on the primary ballot through the signature gathering option. They do this while still professing affection for delegates and conventions. How is this relatively new avenue of political access (first implemented in 2014) evolving and is it here to stay?

Pignanelli: “Gathering signatures is more than an insurance policy. It’s definitely a strategy.” — Becki Wright, CEO Proximity, Hinckley Report. New telephone area codes, limitations on sharing streaming services and reservations to visit recreation areas are examples of the many lifestyles changes we today endure because of ongoing societal developments. Similarly, signature gathering is now a permanent feature of Utah’s elections that reflects such alterations to our daily routines.

Although expensive, collecting signatures guarantees placement on the primary ballot. Equally important, this action has evolved into a multifaceted tool by campaigns to ensure contention in the primary and force lesser financed competitors to expend resources. Contemporarily, convention battles have increased in costs, thereby diminishing any advantages to this process. Thus, to rely solely on the fickle attitudes of delegates is an unreliable tactic.

The inability to share your Netflix password with friends, and the hassle of collecting signatures, are now fixed inconveniences.

Webb: When I was a newspaper reporter decades ago, I attended and wrote about many party caucuses and county, state and national conventions. After leaving journalism, I helped candidates prepare for these critical election milestones, and I also served many times as a county and state delegate.

So I have a fondness for the caucus/convention process. Gathering at a local school with neighbors to discuss politics and important issues is an excellent exercise in grassroots democracy. It remains a valid path to get on the primary election ballot.

I like party activists. I respect people who are passionate about politics and show up at every political event. But I don’t think they, alone, should get to decide who appears on the primary ballot. More casual party members also need a voice in the nominating process. That’s why I was involved in the Count My Vote effort that produced the hybrid system we have today, enabling candidates to seek a spot on the primary ballot via the caucus/convention system, or by gathering signatures, or by using both paths.

The fact is that caucuses and conventions are not representative of the voting public. Plenty of old, white, males (like me) participate. But women, minorities and young people are vastly underrepresented, but still want and deserve a role in the process.

Candidates have embraced signature gathering to secure a ballot position. The dual-path system is working well. We need to keep it.

The 2024 election is massively important for Utah Republicans. It features key open state and federal seats and a crucial presidential race. Despite these incentives for involvement, turnout was low at the Super Tuesday March 5 precinct caucuses to select delegates and vote a presidential preference. Is this a message that most Republicans have lost interest in the caucus/convention system?

Pignanelli: A solid rule of our culture is that Americans express their preferences for consumer products, services and community activities through purchases or attendance. Utahns have signaled little interest in spending time, especially on a beautiful Saturday, listening to activists debate minutia. Further, conventions are plagued with inefficiencies caused by longtime problems party officials inherited.

How we interact with our family, health care professionals, work colleagues, etc. changed dramatically in the last 20 years. So, even the most engaged citizens prefer a similar, and easier, route of political involvement. In other words, they choose the comfort of wearing fuzzy slippers and a robe while at home to complete the ballot that has been sitting on the kitchen counter for weeks.

Webb: Precinct caucuses don’t fit busy modern lifestyles. I wish more people would attend and vote for convention delegates, but caucus participation, as a percentage of party voters, is going to continue to decline.


As Utah’s nomination process changes, is there ever a possibility of a nonpartisan blanket primary (a.k.a. “jungle primary”) where all candidates filed for the same office compete against each other for the top two spots for the general election?

Pignanelli: Utah leaders are expressing concern for deep primary fields. They are understandably uncomfortable with a candidate representing the party with a victory in the primary of less than 35% of the vote. So various options will be reviewed in the future.

Webb: The California-style jungle primary is not likely to happen in my lifetime. There are pros and cons to that system, but I doubt the Legislature has any interest in such a radical change.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email:

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