Judge orders Utah, GOP to try to resolve lawsuit

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the Utah Republican Party and state officials to work to resolve a lawsuit over a new law changing how political parties nominate candidates.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said this week that mediation will be faster and cheaper than waiting for the dispute play out in court as state officials prepare to run 2016 elections.

At a court hearing Tuesday afternoon, Nuffer ordered the GOP and the state to pick a mediator by Sept. 18 and hold talks in late September and early October.

The disputed law, approved in 2014 by Utah's GOP governor and Republican-dominated Legislature, allows candidates to bypass a caucus and convention system and instead try to become a party's nominee by gathering signatures and participating in primary elections.

Republican Party leaders sued in December to strike down the law, arguing they have a constitutional right to determine how they pick candidates.

James Evans, the chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said Wednesday that the GOP is still pursuing its lawsuit but will work to see if it can be settled through mediation.

"We're open to all of those options as long as our constitutional questions are answered," Evans said.

The GOP argued earlier this year that it didn't have time to comply with the law by next year's elections, but Nuffer ruled in April that wasn't enough reason to temporarily block the law.

The law was a compromise between Utah GOP lawmakers and a group called Count My Vote, a group comprised mostly of well-funded Republicans who wanted to overhaul Utah's political nominating system.

Backers of Count My Vote, including former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt, have been pushing for changes since 2010, when three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted at the GOP convention amid the rising tea party movement.

Count My Vote argues it's difficult for many people to participate in the caucus and convention system, with its requirement of attending meetings in person. The group says that results in more extreme political positions or candidates without broad support.

Defenders of the caucus system argue that it allows for local scrutiny of candidates and enables those without deep pockets to run for office.

The Utah Constitution Party has joined the GOP in challenging the new law.

The cost of a mediator would be split three ways between the Republican Party, the Constitution Party and the state of Utah.

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