A former congressional candidate has panned Utah's unique process of selecting candidates for the ballot.
Mark Hedengren, who ran against Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, for the Republican nomination in the 3rd District but lost at the state convention last Saturday as he only won 65 of the 1013 votes available, now says he supports the Count My Vote effort to change Utah's election process after being a candidate in the caucus convention system.
Hedengren said in an email to reporters that the current system is "pretty messed up" and the arguments traditionally made as to why the system is better than a direct primary process, such as that the current system prevents big money from taking over elections, aren't true.
"I was told repeatedly that people spent at least $70,000 to get to the convention. That's not cheap," Hedengren said.
He said Count My Vote's effort to allow candidates to gain access to a party's primary election ballot through a petition process could possibly be cheaper than the $70,000 spent by some candidates. He estimated candidates would be able to get 7,000 signatures to put their name on the ballot at a cheaper price.
"I'm certain you could get each signature for less than $10," he said.
Hedengren also questioned if the delegates actually make up a representation of the public.
As he met with delegates leading up to the convention, he said he met a number who were very concerned about "Article 5 conspiracies" in the U.S. Constitution and other delegates who were very concerned about repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows U.S. senators to be elected by the general population instead of by state legislatures. Hedengren questioned if those issues were items the public wanted the delegates asking candidates about.
He also said legislative district officers, a leadership position in the party, would not ask questions to find out where he stands on issues but would attempt to trip him up and embarrass him in front of delegates at his own town hall meetings. He explained he asked one party officer to stop with the questions, at which point the person got upset and left the meeting.
"I don’t feel that the caucus system helps the little guy in the least bit," Hedengren said. "I would much rather get the 7,000 signatures. It would cost less, take less effort and I wouldn't have to have an opinion on whether or not the friends of Article 5 are going to replace the United States Constitution."
In his email he also called the caucus and convention system "one big long fundraiser for the Utah Republican Party."
Hedengren said he was constantly being asked for money as he was campaigning. He noted that he was asked to purchase booths at county and state conventions that reached as high as $1,500. He also was asked to buy $300 worth of tickets to a dinner which would also get him the opportunity to greet people at the door as they came to the meal. He noted the party even wanted to charge him $275 if he chose to use the teleprompter when giving his speech at the convention.
"They have a monopoly on access to the delegates and use it to milk every penny out of the candidates," he said.
Hedengren said he did enjoy the experience of running for office but said it did not make him a convert to the caucus convention system. He said the state should have open primaries in the future.
As things stand right now, that is the direction the state is headed with its election process.
The state legislature passed a bill in its recent session that creates an alternate path to the ballot process that would have an impact on elections beginning in 2016.
Under the bill, political parties would have to allow for candidates to have their name placed on the party's primary election ballot if the candidate obtained a required amount of signatures on a petition.
Those seeking a statewide office would need to get 28,000 signatures, while congressional candidates would have to get 7,000 signatures. The candidates could also still gain access to the ballot through the caucus and convention system under the legislation, but many assume the candidates will prefer to go through the petition process.
Some members of the Republican party dislike the legislation and are hoping the party will come forward with a lawsuit to end the bill. State Party Chair James Evans said at last weekend's state party convention that discussions are being held behind the scenes on how the party may handle the new law.
Evans said legal options are available to the party and other deals could be made to change what the legislature passed. He told the delegates that many of the negotiations taking place would be done privately in order to not compromise the party's strategy to change the law to its favor, but said the party was working to protect the system championed by many state political party delegates.
"A lot of these actions are done privately. Some are done publicly. That is the nature of any complex issue that is challenged," Evans said.