ST. GEORGE – A fourth 2018 ballot initiative was filed Wednesday in Utah. Called “Count My Vote 2.0” by some, the initiative is a relaunch of the 2013-14 campaign to kill the state’s caucus-convention system by holding direct primaries instead.
The elimination of the state’s long-held caucus-convention system would enable political candidates to get their names on a primary ballot provided they gather the number of signatures needed for the position they’re seeking on the county, state and federal level.
The filing’s introductory letter states:
This initiative’s purpose is to institute direct primary elections that will improve voter participation, enhance candidates’ access to the ballot, require nominees to show a sufficiently broad level of support, and ensure the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.
While Utah’s political parties should always remain free to hold caucuses and conventions, direct primary elections should serve as the only mechanism through which a candidate for elective office may appear with political party affiliation on the general-election ballot. This issue has been debated publicly for many years, but now is the time for the People of Utah to decide.
If the new ballot initiative is successful, it will put the fate of the caucus-convention system in the hands of Utah voters.
During the initiative’s original run, the Utah Legislature created what is commonly known as “Senate Bill 54,” compromise legislation that allows prospective candidates to gather signatures while also keeping the convention system intact.
Candidates who go through the caucus-convention system meet with party delegates and are vetted by them then dropped or advanced as the party’s chosen candidate for the general election during a party convention.
A primary election is generally held if neither of the top two candidates gains the threshold of votes needed to secure the nomination.
Candidates that gather the needed signatures to be on the party’s primary ballot then join those who went through the caucus-convention system.
The party delegates themselves are individuals who are chosen by the members of their neighborhood precincts to represent their interest when it comes to vetting and voting for candidates seeking the party’s nomination.
However, supporters of Count My Vote contend that the party delegates do not represent the interest of Utah voters as a whole and seek to do away with the convention system and replace it with a direct primary.
“We’ve also seen a clear disconnect between party voters and party insider delegates. So now it’s time to give voters the choice,” Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, told Fox 13 News after filing the initiative for review Wednesday.
Some candidates go through both the signature-gathering and caucus-convention routes.
Gov. Gary Herbert completed both in order to keep his name on a primary ballot after losing the delegate vote to challenger Jonathan Johnson in 2016 during the GOP convention.
The Utah Republican Party has fought an ongoing legal battle against the Count My Vote compromise bill, arguing that it violates the group’s right to choose its candidates as it sees fit. The court battle has put the state GOP into nearly $500,000 of debt. The case is currently in the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Colorado.
According to Fox 13 News, the Utah Democratic Party has also filed suit against parts of the compromise bill with many party members wishing to retain the caucus-convention system.
“We recognize that many of our delegates are in favor of keeping the caucus system and we recognize parties have a right to nominate how they want. We just made that argument in Colorado,” Utah Democratic Party Treasurer Crystal Young-Otterstrom told Fox 13 News. “But we’re also in favor of the democratic process, so we’re kind of in an ‘all of the above.'”
While Count My Vote supporters have also said they believe direct primaries will encourage better voter turn out, opponents have also argued that a loss of the convention system will leave rural Utah without a voice as candidates won’t be subject to scrutiny from delegates who come from rural parts of the state.
The new Count My Vote ballot initiative joins three other initiatives filed so far this year, including proposals seeking to legalize medical marijuana, raise taxes for public education and create an independent redistricting committee.
In order to get on the 2018 ballot, an initiative needs to gather over 113,000 signatures from across 26 of Utah’s 29 senatorial districts by April 2018.
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