- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Thousands of Utah Republicans and Democrats will gather Saturday at party conventions in Salt Lake City to vote for candidates for Congress, governor and other offices.

But in some races, the daylong events won’t settle intra-party battles for nominations.

New state election laws designed to boost voter participation have muddied Utah’s already complex nominating system, and it’s unclear yet if it will help or hurt moderate politicians.

Some questions and answers about the conventions and Utah’s nominating process:

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HOW DOES THE NOMINATION PROCESS WORK?

Under the new laws, Utah offers two paths to run for office. Candidates can participate in long-standing party conventions where they vie for the support of several thousand delegates, most of whom are typically activists and longtime loyalists. If a candidate wins at least 60 percent of the delegate votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate clears that threshold, then the top two vote-getters compete in the June primary.

A new option allows candidates to gather voter signatures to get their names on the primary ballot, no matter what happens at the convention.

Candidates can choose to take the convention path, the signature-gathering path, or both.

Republicans Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, for instance, have chosen to take both paths. Herbert’s main GOP challenger, Jonathan Johnson, is only competing at the convention.

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IF SOMEONE WINS 60 PERCENT AT THE CONVENTION, DO THEY BECOME THE NOMINEE?

Not necessarily. Under the new law, anyone coming out of the convention as a winner must still compete in the primary against candidates that gathered signatures. In the GOP race for governor, Johnson is betting on the convention in a bid to appeal to powerful party delegates, some of whom see the signature-gathering path as a rejection of their judgment.

The delegates could punish Herbert for his decision to also gather signatures. But the tactic has given him a backup plan and another shot at the nomination in June if he fails to win enough support Saturday.

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WHY DID LAWMAKERS ADD THE NEW SIGNATURE-GATHERING METHOD?

They were trying to boost voter participation. The 2014 law was a compromise reached with a group called Count My Vote that pushed to get rid of the convention system, arguing it is difficult because it requires people to attend meetings in person. They began pushing for primaries after longtime Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted at the convention in 2010 amid a rise in support for the tea party.

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WHAT DO CONVENTIONS LOOK LIKE?

About 4,000 Republicans and 2,500 Democrats will be attending conventions Saturday. The delegates represent various neighborhood districts and were picked by voters in those areas. Many candidates began courting delegates before the conventions with phone calls, campaign mailers or meetings where they provide food and speak to a group. They’ll continue making their pitch on Saturday, setting up campaign booths, handing out buttons or signs, and giving short speeches before voting starts.

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This story corrects spelling to Jonathan Johnson, not Jonathon Johnson.


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