SALT LAKE CITY – Senate Bill 54, which has been referred to as a compromise bill between Count My Vote and the Utah Legislature, passed the state House and Senate Wednesday despite opposition expressed by some state legislators. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Gary Herbert to make the bill the law.
Once signed, the new law will pave the way for direct primaries in 2016, however, it will also keep the state’s caucus-convention system intact, with a few tweaks.
- Where party primaries once exclusive to party members only will open to unaffiliated voters. There are an estimated 660,000 unaffiliated voters in the state.
- Delegates will be allowed to use absentee ballots for party conventions.
- Candidates can get on the primary ballot by collecting a required amount of signatures.
The Utah House passed SB 54 49-20, while the senate passed it 21-7.
After the governor signs the bill, Count My Vote said it will abandon its petition to get the direct primary initiative on the ballot. The initiative needs 102,000 signatures to get on the ballot and Count My Vote said last week that it has collected 100,000 signatures. If voted on and passed by the public, the initiative would have done away with the caucus-convention system.
SB-54 creates a dual-system where a candidate can collect signatures to get on the ballot, go through the caucus system, or both.
As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, Taylor Morgan, co-director of Count My Vote said the group is excited with the bill.
“What we’re most excited about is that we are now opening Utah’s primary election to unaffiliated voters,” Morgan said. “Our initiative alone did not have the ability to do that.”
Rep. Danial McCay, R-Riverton, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bill provides “an opportunity for a state that is dominated by a single party to reach out and grab more people.”
Points used by the Count My Vote initiate during it signature-gathering campaign have included telling prospective signers that a direct primary will modernize Utah’s current system, as well as take the ability to choose the candidates out of the hands of the few, namely caucus delegates, and places it in the hands of the many, the voters in general.
Some state legislators remain dubious of the bill.
“I would argue what we are doing is the death of the caucus-convention system,” Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George said. “Within a number of years it will not exist when we pass this bill.”
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said he believed the bill was unconstitutional, as the state legislature is deciding for the state’s political parties how they will conduct their primaries. It potentially violates freedoms of expression, speech, and association, he said.
“The Supreme Court case law tells us that the state may only interfere in the internal workings of a party if there is a compelling state interests, such as a civil rights issue,” Ivory said. “Based on that, this is not our fight.”
Protect Our Neighborhood Elections and Keep Our Caucus, two groups apposed to Count My Vote, have argued the measure will make candidates less accountable to the people, as they wouldn’t have to deal with the delegates. In turn, the candidates could end up catering to special interests with deep pockets. Direct primaries can be fairly pricey, with the caucus-convention system providing a less dollar-hungry alternative.
They also argue that taking away or diminishing the caucus-convention system could also have a harmful affect on the representation of rural counties in the state. Currently candidates are required to meet with delegates face-to-face, including those from from rural Utah. Take that away and rural Utah potentially becomes little more than a “flyover” to the candidates.
- On the EDge: Count My Vote? Please
- Caucus, direct primary compromise bill passes committee
- Dixie Republican Forum discusses opposing Count My Vote ballot initiative
- Trust voters or know candidates? Count My Vote rallies politicians, groups on both sides
- Count My Vote hits St. George with supporters, opponents
- Former Utah governors to kick off ‘Count My Vote’ in St. George
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