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Who should pick the candidates to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz if he resigns his seat in Congress early? One option is a primary election where voters select the nominees. The other is leaving it up to party delegates to put forward their preferred candidate.  A new poll finds Utahns want all voters to select party nominees.

A just-completed UtahPolicy.com survey asked Utah registered voters who should be responsible for picking the party nominees to replace Chaffetz. Under one scenario, candidates could either gather signatures or be chosen by party delegates to get on the ballot; then all voters would cast ballots in a primary election to pick the party nominee.

Under the other scenario, just political party delegates would choose the candidates for the final election.

Overwhelmingly, respondents said they want all voters to have a voice in selecting their party nominees through a primary election.

  • 76% of respondents said all voters should determine party nominees

  • Just 19% of respondents say only party delegates should select the candidates to replace Chaffetz.

  • 5% said they don't know.

 

Whatever happens, the process must be decided quickly because multiple sources close to Chaffetz are telling UtahPolicy.com Chaffetz will likely announce his resignation within a few days and could leave Congress sometime next month. However, Chaffetz has inserted himself in the growing scandal involving former FBI Director James Comey, which could lead to plenty of media attention for Chaffetz, so he may not be willing to give that up just yet.

Utah lawmakers have been pressuring Herbert to call a special session so they can change Utah law to set the terms for a special election to fill a Congressional replacement. Right now, Utah statute only says the governor shall issue a proclamation calling for a special election, which means Herbert would get to decide how that election is conducted.

Herbert has said he favors the current dual-track election system, in part because some members of the Legislature are considering running to replace Chaffetz, and it would be improper for them to "game the system," giving themselves an unfair advantage.

Some lawmakers argue that using the dual track system could leave the seat open for an unusually long time. By statute, ballots for a primary election must be available 45 days before a primary and, in this case, special election, so that overseas and military voters have time to cast their votes. That means at least 90 days would go by before a replacement for Chaffetz would be chosen, but likely longer in order to give candidates time to gather signatures and delegates enough time to pick their nominees.

Those against leaving the seat open for that long argue that Congress is facing many critical issues like health care and tax reform, and it would be unfair to voters in Utah's 3rd Congressional District to not have representation in Washington during those debates.

Only Herbert can call a special session, so it's more than likely he will win any showdown with lawmakers on the issue.

Our poll shows Utahns want voters to take their time choosing a replacement for Chaffetz.

Jones gave respondents two options:

  • Chaffetz's seat would remain empty for a longer time if the convention and primary election system were utilized, but all voters would get to choose the candidates

  • Chaffetz's seat would be empty for a shorter period if delegate method is used, but only delegates would get to choose the party candidates.

When voters were asked which of the two options they preferred, the answer was overwhelmingly for letting all voters pick the candidates.

  • 74% said all voters should have a say in picking the party's candidate, even if the process is longer.

  • 22% said only delegates should pick the candidates to replace Chaffetz.

  • 5% said they didn't know.

Republicans told the pollster that they want the current dual track system used to pick the candidates to replace Chaffetz, even though it may take longer to fill his seat. That's significant because whichever GOP candidate emerges from a possible primary is almost assured of winning the special election. Utah's 3rd District is the 16th "most Republican" in the nation according to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.

  • 69% of Republicans said they would like both the signature-gathering and delegate selection process used, which would lead to a primary election. 64% of Republicans said they still favored the dual track system even though it would take longer to fill Chaffetz's seat.

Why does the method for selecting candidates matter when it's all but assured the seat would remain in Republican hands if Chaffetz steps down? If it's up to the delegates, they'll likely pick someone who is farther to the political right than most mainstream Republicans. If there's a signature-gathering route to the ballot, that will favor more moderate candidates and those with better name recognition.

The Dan Jones & Associates survey was conducted May 15-16 among 603 registered Utah voters with a margin of error +/- 3.99%.