ST. GEORGE – Count My Vote organizers announced Wednesday they won’t push to replace the caucus-convention system with a direct primary as originally intended. Instead, they’ve revised their ballot initiative to simplify a part of the 2014 election law that allows for the coexistence of the caucus-convention system and signature gathering.
Count My Vote said in a statement Wednesday that they’ve decided the compromise law, SB 54 enrolled in 2014 and effective 2015, allowing candidates to use the caucus system or get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures has generally worked out well.
Organizers point to input from seven public hearings held across the state as a reason for the change in focus.
“We now want to give voters all options,” Taylor Morgan, Count My Vote’s executive director, told The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday. “The overwhelming public feedback we heard is that what we have now is working, so why take something away?”
During his monthly press conference on KUED Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert said he thought it was “probably a good move” for Count My Vote to take this direction as it leaves the voters and candidates with options.
“It gives more people a choice and engages more people in the vote,” Herbert said. “It will encourage us to have more primaries, so it will give people more opportunity to vote and be a part of the selection process.”
When originally introduced in late 2013, the Count My Vote initiative sought to replace the caucus-convention system entirely with a direct primary. Organizers hoped to achieve this by putting the question to the voters and launched a signature-gathering campaign to get it on the ballot.
As Count My Vote drew close to gaining the needed 113,000 signatures to get on the next next general election ballot, a compromise was struck between Count My Vote’s organizers and the Utah Legislature. The compromise came in the form of 2014’s Senate Bill 54 and preserved the caucus system while also allowing for an alternate path to the primary for candidates who gathered enough signatures.
The election law played out during this year’s primaries including a special election for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. John Curtis, who was elected to fill former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s seat Tuesday, got to the Republican primary through signatures while challenger Chris Herrod went through the caucus-convention system.
Count My Vote supporters have argued that the caucus-convention system tends to be filled with delegates who don’t necessarily represent the common will of the people and tend to support candidates who lean toward political extremes.
Supporters of the caucus-convention system have countered this claim, arguing the delegates, who are elected by their neighborhood precincts, do represent the will of those who chose them.
Herbert, who said he has been a supporter of the caucus-convention system for all of his political life, said he understands the frustrations some have had with the system due to delegates seemingly being stacked in favor of one particular candidate or issue.
“Rather than have a delegate that goes to a caucus and says to their neighbors, ‘What do you want me to represent? Who do you like as a candidate? What are the philosophies, the policies you want me to support?’ now they go there and say I’m here just for one purpose and one purpose only: to get my candidate elected,” Herbert said. “And we end up having candidates that spend a ton of money to try to stack the delegates. That’s not how the system was designed to be.”
In these cases, there is a disconnect between the people and the delegates, he said.
Regarding the Utah GOP’s continuing legal challenge against the SB 54 compromise law, the governor said the party needs to move beyond the lawsuit.
“Let’s unite and move forward,” he said.
While the Utah GOP’s lawsuit against SB 54 has failed in lower court, it is currently before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
As for changes Count My Vote now seeks to make to the 2014 compromise law, they would greatly reduce the amount of signatures needed to qualify for certain political offices.
Currently, state law requires a candidate for statewide office, such as governor, attorney general or U.S. senator, to gather 28,000 signatures. Under the revised Count My Vote initiative, that number drops to 1 percent of the registered party voters. This would require a Republican candidate to gather around 7,000 signatures while a Democratic candidate would need to gather around 1,700 signatures.
Signature requirements for U.S. House races could also be reduced under the revised initiative.
Utah House and Senate races also require 1,000 and 2,000 signatures respectively under the current law. The initiative could drop that to 100 and 200 signatures.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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