Committee approves bills that grapple with prior year's election law

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two controversial bills that would alter, if not undo, last year’s Count My Vote initiative passed favorably out of a Senate committee Friday.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is sponsoring both bills in opposition to the legislative compromise that morphed from the Count My Vote initiative last year.

The initiative’s purpose was to increase voter participation, but the resulting compromise, SB54, fanned controversy among Republicans and pushed the state GOP to file a lawsuit.

SB54 gives candidates the option to bypass the state’s current caucus system and instead collect voter signatures for a place on the primary ballot. It also opens primary elections to all voters, as currently the Utah GOP only allows registered Republicans to vote in its primaries.

The Utah Republican Party’s lawsuit claims SB54 was unconstitutional and that parties should be free to determine how to nominate candidates.

Jenkins’ bill, SJR2, was first passed out of the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee by a 5-1 vote. The bill would amend the Utah Constitution and repeal SB54.

SB43, also sponsored by Jenkins, proposed to delay SB54’s changes until after the 2016 election. The committee approved it 4-1.

Jenkins said delaying the changes would give political parties more time to adjust to SB54’s changes, as well as allow time for the lawsuit against SB54 to settle.

“We believe this will help the parties with the time they need to get their house in order,” Jenkins said.

Republican Party Chairman James Evans spoke in support of the bills Friday, saying the party faces “uncertainty” with the current lawsuit against SB54 and would be pressed in the current time frame to adapt to the law’s changes.

In response to the committee’s decision, the Alliance for a Better Utah issued a news release in which executive director Maryann Martindale said lawmakers “acted entirely contrary to the will of the mainstream Utahns” by supporting Jenkins' bills.

“Their actions today further demonstrate jut how out of touch our state Legislature is,” Martindale stated. “At a time when Utah voter turnout is at historic lows, the state Legislature should be opening the electoral process, not restricting it.”

Now passed with a favorable recommendation, Jenkins’ bills move to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, was alone in her votes Friday against Jenkins’ bills. Email:

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Katie McKellar


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