The chair of the Utah County Democratic Party and other county chairs are warning about “voter suppression” that could “disenfranchise all Utah County volunteers that had been activated since the 2018 caucus” in the upcoming election to replace the state party chair.

The party denies the claims of voter suppression, which were brought up on Thursday in an email sent to members of the party’s State Central Committee.

In the email, 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, noting that “it has come to our attention 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.”

“This has the potential to undermine the confidence and integrity of the upcoming state party elections,” they wrote in the email, which was shared with the Daily Herald.

One of the races in question is between Utah Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant and Daniel Hicken, former chair of the Utah County Democratic Party.

In April, Perez asked Executive Director Matthew Patterson for guidance on filing his county’s state delegate list, according to the letter, which goes on to state that “Patterson told Perez that he was only permitted to fill half of their total delegate spots guaranteed by the constitution.”

“Meanwhile, other counties were told that they could fill all of their delegate spots with whoever they want,” the letter said.

The letter goes on to say that the number of state delegates allocated to each county is, according to party bylaws, proportional based on votes for Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and auditor. Counties get as many state delegates as they have been allocated by the State party “and no county party has ever before been told they only get to fill half of their delegate spots.”

The county chairs brought up their concerns during a rules committee meeting, according to the letter, and 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,” the four county chairs wrote.

The county chairs added that it is “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.”

To make sure that the upcoming party election is “transparent and honest,” the county chairs asked the State Central Committee “to provide clear guidance to all county parties about who their delegates are and how they are allowed to fill them,” as well as to “address the bias in state party staff and that those staff who are openly supporting one candidate are also the only people administering the election without any oversight in violation of our constitution and bylaws.”

“Whatever we do for filling state delegate vacancies, it needs to be the same across all counties,” they wrote. “Some counties can’t be limited in the number of vacancies they get to fill while others get to fill all of them based on who they might vote for. This is the opposite of what the Democratic Party stands for. We are an open party and we oppose voter suppression and unfair elections.”

The county chairs accused Merchant of attempting “to rig this election,” noting that “politically, it makes sense that Merchant would want to limit the number of state delegates from counties that his opponent is most known in and would likely have the most support.”

“We really didn’t want to take this to (the) Central Committee, but we felt we had no choice,” the four county chairs wrote. “We as a party stand up against anti-democratic voter suppression laws in other states, and our party shouldn’t be different.”

In a written statement provided to the Daily Herald on Monday, the Utah Democratic Party stated that it “categorically denies that any voter suppression or other form of voter fraud has taken place during this state officer election” and added 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.”

“We as a party began addressing the concerns raised in the email to ensure that our process is free and fair, and in keeping of the democratic values that we hold dear,” the state party wrote. “We look forward to an imminent resolution that is amicable to all parties.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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