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Blaming ‘miscommunication,’ Utah Dem. county chairs retract voter suppression claims

By Connor Richards daily Herald - | Jun 10, 2021
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Utah County Democrat Chair Daniel Hicken, of Orem, speaks during a caucus held by the Utah County Democrats on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at Provo High School. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Daniel Hicken smiles as people finish clapping after he was announced as the new Chair of the Utah County Democratic Party during the County Party's Organizing Convention on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the Provo City Library. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald

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Daniel Hicken, a candidate for County Party Chair, speaks during the Utah County Democratic Party Organizing Convention on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the Provo City Library. After a vote, Hicken was elected as the new County Party Chair. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald

Four county chairs of the Utah Democratic Party who warned about “voter suppression” and election rigging that could “disenfranchise” Utah County Democrats in upcoming party elections now say their concerns were based on “miscommunication” with the party and retracted their claims.

Last week, Utah County Democratic Party Chair Kevin Perez, as well as the party chairs of Box Elder, Tooele and Iron counties, called for an “emergency” in-person meeting with the party’s State Central Committee after finding out “that the chair of the Utah Democratic Party and Utah Party Staff have been giving conflicting instructions to county chairs regarding the delegate lists and which delegates would be able to vote” in the race between Chair Jeff Merchant and Daniel Hicken, former chair of the Utah County Democratic Party.

In an email sent to members of the State Central Committee on June 3, Perez and the other county chairs alleged that party Executive Director Matthew Patterson told Perez “that he was only permitted to fill half of their total delegate spots guaranteed by the constitution,” while other county chairs “were told that they could fill all of their delegate spots with whoever they want.”

The four county chairs argued that “not allowing Utah County to fill all their vacancies would be voter suppression and disenfranchise all Utah County volunteers that had been activated since the 2018 caucus, including some of the county’s most active volunteers.”

“This would have long-term consequences in Utah County, and state wide,” they wrote, adding that it was “unclear what guidance other counties have been given, or if we will even be able to have a fair and free election with what appears to be clear voter suppression and election rigging.”

The party denied the claims of voter suppression and election rigging on Monday, writing in a written statement provided to the Daily Herald that “as soon as these allegations were raised, the State Party officers and staff immediately reached out to County Chairs to address the source of the miscommunication and their concerns in a transparent way.”

On Wednesday, the four county chairs announced that they “have had several conversations with the State Party about efforts supported by both the four county party chairs and the State Party team to give every member of our party confidence that our upcoming state convention elections will be free, fair, transparent, and in line with the values of our Democratic Party.”

“We have received clarifications on existing policies, and have seen the State Party’s willingness to correct the miscommunication and adopt additional procedures to address our concerns and improve transparency, including common-sense rules to allow for additional oversight and supervision by candidates and county parties, all of which leads us to believe that the Utah Democratic Party, Jeff Merchant, (Central Region Rep.) Ann Dent, or Matthew Patterson were not attempting to disenfranchise voters or rig the election in favor of any specific candidate,” the county chairs wrote in the statement, which was released officially through the party.

They continued, “We are also working with the State Party to establish a better process for resolving disputes moving forward. With these reforms in place, we would like to retract our claims and request for an emergency Central Committee meeting.”

The Utah Democratic Party will hold its virtual organizing convention on June 26.

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