Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday showcased their lackluster appetites for unwinding a 2014 compromise bill that preserved parts of Utah’s caucus and convention nominating system while thwarting a petition drive that seemed likely to upend it.
Some lawmakers, but primarily the Utah Republican Party, have challenged the compromise, known as Count My Vote, which was laid out in 2014 in Senate Bill 54
. In addition to filing a federal lawsuit in December that challenged the bill, Republic Party leaders have said they don’t have time to comply with the law, which would go into effect in 2016.
To aid the party’s goals, and in the hopes of getting the bill tossed out altogether, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, set out this legislative session to kill the compromise. One part of this effort involved delaying implementation
of the new law until 2017. Jenkins said this would allow the Republican Party’s lawsuit to wind its way through the system while giving party leaders enough time to amend its bylaws to comply with the law.
Jenkins’ Senate Bill 43
would have accomplished this delay, but it died on the Senate floor on a 19 to 9 vote.
Count My Vote started out as a petition drive that aimed to unravel the caucus and convention electoral system through which the vast majority of Utah politicians must seek a path to the ballot. By winning the approval of those who attend the caucuses and conventions, candidates often avoid a primary election run-off.
Realizing the winds of change were blowing toward open primary elections, the Legislature in 2014 moved to preserve its cherished convention system, offering Count My Vote organizers a compromise that allows candidates who wish to bypass the caucus and convention system an alternative path to the ballot by collecting signatures.
Although many of the Republican lawmakers who supported SB54 have said they don’t much like it, it is still the law—a reality that surfaced during the floor debate.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who helped negotiate the SB54 compromise, said he supports the caucus system and reiterated statements from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which enforces election laws, that the Republican Party can comply with the law.
“I respect the Republican Party, I am a Republican,” Bramble said. “I support the caucus/convention system. But as a Republican I also believe in obeying and sustaining the law. I believe in following the law.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he voted in favor of SB54 because he wanted to preserve the caucus and convention system. He reminded Jenkins that had the compromise not been brokered, it appeared that Count My Vote had gathered enough signatures and had an armory of public support that would have gladly gone to the polls to obliterate the convention system altogether.
“I believe it was the right decision then and I believe it [is] the right decision now,” Weiler said, noting that if the Legislature backs out of its compromise, he would expect Count My Vote to double back on its effort. And, in the event that the compromise was tossed out, he said Count My Vote would be able to say that the Legislature “deceived” the public.
Weiler also took a jab at his party, saying he sat through a meeting shortly after last year’s legislative session where Republican Party leaders claimed to have a strategy on how to deal with the compromise.
“I’m afraid that standing up and saying they can’t comply with two years’ notice is part of that strategy,” Weiler said.
The failure of Jenkins’ bill puts another of his efforts, Senate Joint Resolution 2
, in flux. This bill, through a constitutional amendment, would state that the rights of a political party to choose its candidates any way it pleases may not be infringed. If this bill passes, voters would have their say on it in 2016. Senate Bill 43 would have complimented SJR2 by delaying the onset of Count My Vote until after the 2016 election.