Hundreds of Utah County Republicans will vote this weekend to elect a candidate to fill a vacancy on the Utah County Commission created when Tanner Ainge abruptly resigned in March.

Voting among the approximately 530 members of the Utah County Republican Party Central Committee opens at 10 p.m. on Thursday and will go until 3 p.m. Saturday as part of the party’s virtual convention, according to Stewart Peay, chair of the county GOP.

Peay told the Daily Herald in an interview Thursday that the party expected to have a candidate selected by 6 p.m. Saturday and will post the special election results on its Facebook page.

The nine candidates running to fill the vacancy include Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner, former Commissioner Steve White, Highland Mayor Rod Mann, former Provo Rep. Chris Herrod and former commission candidate Christopher Forbush.

The Utah County Republican Party Central Committee is made up of Utah County voting precinct chairs and vice-chairs; the party’s elected officers and appointed county officers; Legislative district chairs, vice-chairs and education officers; past county chairs; and all county, state and federal elected officials, according to the party’s website.

The committee members will cast their ballots using VOATZ, a mobile voting application that uses blockchain and facial recognition technology to verify voter identity. The special election is being held using ranked-choice voting, meaning voters will rank candidates from their first to last choice.

Peay said there had been some confusion among residents and party members as to whether all county delegates, as opposed to just members of the central committee, would be voting to elect the new commissioner. He said there are approximately 700-800 county delegates who aren’t on the central committee, and therefore will not vote in the special election.

The commission vacancy was created on March 17 when Ainge submitted his resignation to the county after failing to submit post-arrival notice for his military training. Ainge, who had clashed politically with commissioners Bill Lee and Tom Sakievich on county government issues ranging from property taxes to Bridal Veil Falls funding, was also nominated to serve on the Governor’s Economic Development Board.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt considered challenging the constitutionality of the process for filling the commission vacancy, a process outlined in state law, since the party did not hold a caucus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore did not elect new delegates.

Leavitt ultimately decided not to challenge the process, noting that party leadership was “doing their best job in difficult circumstances” and acknowledging the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peay said he spoke with Leavitt about the county attorney’s concerns with “mak(ing) sure that the proper people were on the central committee” and noted that the party bylines and constitution outline a process for replacing individuals “who may move or pass away or resign from their position as a delegate or a county central committee member.”

Interviews with the Utah County Commission candidates can be viewed on the Utah County Republican Party’s website, which can be accessed at http://www.ucrp.org/2021-elections-convention.

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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