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'Voter suppression' concerns raised inside Utah Democratic Party; chair disputes claims

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For months, Democrats across the country accused Republicans of attempted "voter suppression" in new laws. Now concerns over potential limitations on voting have been raised inside Utah's Democratic Party over the upcoming election for the party's leader.

"We as a party stand up against anti-democratic voter suppression laws in other states, and our party shouldn't be different," wrote four chairs of Democratic Party organizations in Box Elder, Utah, Iron and Tooele Counties.

They called for an "emergency" meeting of Utah party officials, asserting the current state party leader, Jeff Merchant, of attempting to "rig this election."

Merchant has been running to retain his post against challenger Daniel Hicken, who is from Utah County.

"It appears with Utah County being a stronghold for his opponent... he (Merchant) is actively trying to suppress the vote in his favor," said Kevin Perez, one of the four senders of the letter, and a Hicken supporter.

The allegation centers on how many delegates will be able to vote at the upcoming state Democratic Party convention, and who chooses them. Perez wanted to appoint some delegates from Utah County on his own. Merchant said one person can't do that.

"I completely and categorically deny that anyone in the Democratic Party is trying to suppress anyone's vote," said Merchant. "In my mind, someone's trying to make a mountain out of molehill."

He said the state party must ensure rules are followed, and asserted those rules call for other county party activists to consent to seating delegates.

One party activist said Perez is the one "trying to stack the vote" in favor of his preferred candidate.

The Box Elder, Utah, Iron and Tooele County chairs also accused state Democratic Party staff of "bias" and "administering the election without any oversight."

They wanted the emergency meeting on Saturday, which did not happen. It may be scheduled before the Democratic Convention, which will be a virtual event, on June 26.

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Merchant cast the election for state party chair as a choice "to continue to make progress," or "go back to the old days of intraparty fighting."

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