ST. GEORGE – The Utah Republican Party will continue its Count My Vote lawsuit. The party’s Central Committee voted to continue the suit during a meeting in Park City Saturday, countering a previous announcement the party was going to drop it.
Commonly referred to as “SB54,” 2014’s Senate Bill 54, also called the Count My Vote compromise law, allows political candidates to bypass the caucus-convention system and gather signatures to qualify for a spot on the primary ballot.
Party chairman Rob Anderson announced Nov. 1 that the Utah GOP would be dropping its legal challenge of SB54. He said plaintiffs who appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals have less than a 4 percent chance of a favorable ruling. As well, dropping the lawsuit would allow the party to focus on moving forward and “return to financial integrity.”
Fox 13 News reported that the Utah GOP is $423,000 in debt, with $360,000 of that tied to the lawsuit.
Though this is the second time the party would have dropped the lawsuit, the Utah GOP Central Committee voted to keep it going after hours of heated discussion. Prior to the meeting, some within the party were pushing for Anderson to be removed as party chairman for dropping the lawsuit.
During the Central Committee meeting, former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright made a motion to keep the lawsuit going, with conditions. It passed, allowing the lawsuit to continue until the federal appeals court issues a ruling. The motion included that the party would not be responsible for additional legal fees related to the lawsuit.
“What we did was come together,” Wright told Fox 13 News. “The Republican Party came together. There are differing opinions on this thing and we proved you can get people together and talk things through. We came together with a resolution everyone can agree on.”
According to Fox 13 News, Wright said he met with Entrata owner Dave Bateman, and that the Provo software developer would pick up any new costs following the ruling.
The meeting ended without Anderson being censured by the Central Committee.
Washington County Republican Party chairman Jimi Kestin, who attended the meeting, said that virtually all of the committee members are passionate about preserving the caucus-convention system, but have different ideas on how it should be done.
There are two main camps of thought on how the party should move forward on the issue, Kestin said.
One camp wants to drop the lawsuit and focus on pointing out the flaws in the Count My Vote movement – which recently relaunched its ballot initiative – and how its primary goal is kill the caucus-convention system, he said.
The other camp “has serious issues with SB54” and wants to continue the lawsuit so the election law can be “looked at from a constitutional standpoint” by the judges, Kestin said.
While voting to keep the lawsuit going took up much of the meeting, Kestin said part of it was tied to the relaunch of the Count My Vote ballot initiative.
“The biggest issue here is that Count My Vote wants to kill the caucus-convention system,” he said.
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 held if neither of the top two candidates gains the threshold of votes needed to secure the nomination.
The party delegates themselves are chosen by members of their neighborhood precincts to represent their interests when it comes to vetting and voting for candidates seeking the party’s nomination.
“There is no more representative form of government than the caucus-convention system,” Kestin said.
However, supporters of Count My Vote contend that party delegates do not represent the interests of Utah voters as a whole and are seeking to replace the convention system with a direct primary.
Direct primaries, however, can be expensive, Kestin said, allowing only the candidates with the biggest war chests – and the richest donors – the ability to mount a viable campaign.
In contrast, the caucus-convention system allows everyday citizens to enter the race as they would only have to appeal to a smaller number of delegates and not the overall state prior to a primary election.
The caucus-convention system also requires candidates running for offices from the county level to federal level to meet with delegates that include those from the state’s more rural, “flyover” counties. This gives representation to those counties along with the most populous parts of the state, Kestin said.
A direct primary could effectively lead to the rural counties being ignored as their voices are overshadowed by the Wasatch Front, he said.
The Count My Vote ballot initiative relaunched in late September and has since held seven meetings required by the state’s election office to qualify to begin gathering signatures to get on the 2018 ballot.
Getting on next year’s ballot requires the initiative gather over 113,000 signatures from across 26 of the state’s 29 senate districts by April.
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