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Utah Democrats, GOP cancel in-person state conventions, postpone caucus night

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Stuart Richardson, left, introduces himself as a candidate during a caucus meeting at Elk Ridge Junior High School in West Jordan in 2012. Parties are reconsidering public gatherings in light of the new coronavirus.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican and Utah Democratic parties intend to cancel their in-person state conventions next month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decisions come after Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday that for the next two weeks, mass gatherings of groups in Utah will be limited to 100 people. The state will evaluate the situation after that.

Earlier Thursday, the United Utah Party announced it will not gather for caucuses and conventions, but hold virtual meetings instead.

The Utah GOP will also postpone neighborhood caucus meetings scheduled for March 24. The meetings, where voters select delegates to represent them at county and state conventions, are typically held in houses, schools, libraries and other public places.

While the Democratic Party is not mandating the cancellation of caucus meetings, given the continued spread of illness, it is strongly advising counties to find alternatives to mass gatherings, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said.

Both Republican and Democratic party leaders say they are “restructuring” their April 25 state conventions, but had little information about how the meetings will look.

“Although we recognize many want specifics, with the fast-changing situation, it is impossible for us to provide specific details currently,” Merchant said.

Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown said the vetting and candidate voting traditionally associated with the state convention would still occur, but primarily in an online format. 

The Utah Democratic Party will continue to work with state and local officials, county party leadership, and party members to do everything possible to protect the public health while meeting legal requirements for nominating candidates, he said.

The GOP State Central Committee passed a motion last month to give Brown authority to make necessary accommodations to its caucus and convention process in response to the virus.

Brown said he has appointed a committee to work on carrying out the convention contingency plan and would provide details to party members and candidates as to what the restructuring would look like.

Out of “abundances of caution,” the United Utah Party will not hold its caucuses and conventions at physical locations this year, but will hold virtual meetings through video conference calls, said Chairman Richard Davis.

”We don’t want to be the cause of the spread of this virus,” Davis said. “Having potentially a large number of people in a room or a hall may contribute to that. We don’t want even the possibility of that.”

The United Utah Party will hold the caucuses as scheduled, and Davis said he wants people to “come.”

“But coming will mean staying at home and using a computer and a video camera or even just a cellphone to join the caucus or convention,” he said.