Utah GOP sues state over candidate signature gathering

Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Republican Nomination Convention, Sandy, Utah, April 26, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE Last week, the Utah Republican Party filed a new lawsuit against Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in federal court seeking to disqualify candidates who seek to get on the party’s primary ballot via signature-gathering. The party argues that the 2014 law allowing candidates to bypass the caucus-convention system — the party’s preferred method of selecting candidates — is unconstitutional.

2014’s Senate Bill 54, also known as the Count My Vote compromise law, allows candidates to get their names on the party’s primary ballot by collecting a number of signatures required by statute for the position they’re seeking. Signature-seeking candidates can also go through the caucus-convention system if they so choose.

Through the lawsuit, filed Friday, state GOP officials claim the law violates a constitutional right allowing the party to determine how it picks its candidates and therefore wants the law declared unconstitutional.

The GOP asks the court, in its lawsuit, to declare unconstitutional the manner in which the 2014 law is being applied in several respects. Among those, the party claims the following:

… The State has taken away and misappropriated the Party’s right to determine for itself the candidate selection process that will produce a nominee who best represents the Party’s political platform;

… (The state has) burdened the Party’s associational rights by mandating changes to the Party’s internal rules and procedures, at the threat of depriving the Party of its rights if it refuses to comply, that disadvantage the Party, and that the Party has rejected and that conflict with the rules the Party has determined for itself, as set forth in its Constitution and Bylaws, will produce a nominee who best represents the Party’s political platform.

This is the second time the Utah Republican Party has filed a suit against the state over the 2014 law. Last fall, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer struck down a part of the 2014 law that would require political parties to open their primaries to nonparty and unaffiliated voters. The rest of the law remained in place.

According to a memo from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office, more than 70 candidates have chosen to take the signature-gathering route. Some will still go through the caucus-convention system as well.

Among those who filed to collect signatures are Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Mike Lee.

Prior to the Utah GOP filing the lawsuit, Cox wrote in a memo released Tuesday that his office has been working with the Republican Party to get clarification on points concerning the County My Vote compromise law through the Utah Courts. The party gave the Lt. Governor’s Office notice that it would pursue the issue via a federal lawsuit instead.

The general purpose of Cox’s memo was to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the election law. There has been worry among some candidates and voters who participate in signature-collecting that the Republican Party would kick them out or that their names wouldn’t be accepted on the ballot. Cox wrote that, that is not true.

Because (2014) SB54 specifically allows candidates to choose signature gathering, candidates that rely on the law and meet all other legal requirements will be placed on the primary ballot. Any attempts to remove candidates from the ballot for following the law and gathering signatures will be rejected. …

… Under (2014) SB54 any voter ‘affiliated’ with the party, based upon the voter’s party affiliation designation submitted by the voter and entered into the official register, is allowed to sign a petition on behalf of a candidate for that party. As such, any attempt to remove an otherwise qualified and affiliated voter that signs a candidate petition will be rejected.

2014’s SB 54 came about as a compromise between the Utah Legislature and the Count My Vote initiative. Supporters of Count My Vote argued the caucus-convention system is exclusionary and doesn’t encourage voter participation. To that end, they originally sought to do away with the caucus-convention system entirely via a ballot initiative.

James Evens, chairman of the Utah GOP, has said the party wasn’t included in the compromise. The party has been fighting the state over the law since it was signed by the governor in March 2014.

Republican candidates at the county level seeking office in Southern Utah who have chosen to pursue signatures include Greg Aldred for Washington County Commission, Alma Adams for Iron County Commission and Jerry Taylor for Garfield County Commission.

Candidates seeking to represent Southern Utah in the Legislature and have filed their intent to seek signatures include: Ralph Okerlund for Senate District 24 and David Hinkins for Senate District 27; Merrill Nelson for House District 68, John Westwood for House District 72 and Walt Brooks for House District 75.

This report does not reflect which candidate may also be going through the caucus-convention system.

Resources

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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