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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers considered a handful of bills that would have delayed, undone or altered the 2014 Count My Vote initiative, but none of them lasted through the end of the 2015 Legislature.
Four bills sought to unravel or tweak SB54, the compromise lawmakers reached last year with the Count My Vote initiative that allows candidates an alternative path to the primary ballot if they gather enough voter signatures to bypass Utah’s caucus system.
But the bills eventually all faltered throughout the legislative process, with HB313 stalling in the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday, the last night of the session.
Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, said while he was confident that lawmakers would “uphold their end of last year’s deal,” he and other Count My Vote supporters worked hard to “preserve the new system” during this session so voters could anticipate a change for the 2016 election.
“Historically, Utah’s parties have had the mentality of a small group choosing for everyone else, but that changes now,” Morgan said Thursday. “And we’re very excited about that because all along our push has been to give all Utah voters a voice in that process.”
However, with HB313 put to rest — for now, at least — lawmakers and GOP leaders have lingering concerns with SB54 because it allows an unlimited number of possible candidates and could result in situations where a nominee could be chosen by less than 50 percent vote.
Historically, Utah's parties have had the mentality of a small group choosing for everyone else, but that changes now. And we're very excited about that because all along our push has been to give all Utah voters a voice in that process.
–Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote
HB313, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, would have allowed the political parties to pick a primary winner in cases where no candidate gets more than 40 percent of the vote.
Republican Party Chairman James Evans has said the bill would help to preserve “the core principle of any political party, which is that majority rules.”
However, Evans said GOP leaders and the Senate adopted the stance that SB54’s ballot plurality issue could wait to be addressed until next year, despite the failings of HB281 and SB43 earlier in the session. Those bills would have delayed SB54’s implementation to give political parties more time to comply with the new laws.
Another attempt, SJR2, also sought to counter SB54 by allowing voters to decide whether to keep the state’s caucus and convention system that allows candidates with enough support from party delegates to be nominated without a primary election.
State Elections Director Mark Thomas said despite the Senate’s decision to delay considering HB313, there is still “legitimate concern” about plurality issues, not just for Utah, but for states across the nation.
Roberts said the Senate will continue to work on the bill into next year’s legislative session to find the “best way to address plurality both economically and politically.”
Evans said actions to address SB54 may not be necessary next year because the Utah GOP has filed a lawsuit claiming the bill is unconstitutional and that parties should be free to determine how to nominate candidates.
“The 2016 election voters need to stay tuned because we need to get that answer from the courts,” he said.
Thomas said “it’s hard to say at this point” how the judge will rule on the lawsuit, which has the potential to completely dismantle, partially alter or approve of SB54.
But Morgan said he’s “confident in the attorney general’s and governor’s offices in their defense of the law.”
“Utahns shouldn’t feel concerned or any uncertainty about that lawsuit,” he said. “We’re confident that SB54 will be upheld and that this new system will go forward.”