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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill giving the state the go-ahead to prepare to hold the nation's first presidential primary in 2016 was approved Monday by the House.
HB410, sponsored by Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim, said the bill gives Utah the option of holding an online election for president should lawmakers decide next year to pick up the estimated $1.6 million price tag.
Currently, the state can join a regional Western states primary usually held in February or, as was done in 2012, add the presidential race to the June primary ballot.
Cox said the switch would force more nationwide attention to be paid to Utah in a presidential primary process he called "blatantly discriminatory," creating second-class states that have less influence in national politics.
"For some reason, we've created a system that makes Iowa and New Hampshire privileged," Cox said, referring to the traditional hosts of the first presidential caucus and primary elections.
He said his bill is not binding but will give Utah the flexibility to jump out in front of those elections should lawmakers choose to do so. There is no proposed date for a Utah presidential primary in the bill.
Cox acknowledged that, should the state defy the national political parties to hold an earlier primary, those parties would strip the number of delegates Utah sends to the national conventions.
The bill passed the House 58-14 and now goes to the Senate.