SALT LAKE CITY — A citizens' initiative to maintain Utah's dual-track system for nominating candidates for political office won't be on the November ballot.
The Utah Supreme Court on Friday denied Count My Vote's request to throw out a provision in state law allowing voters to remove their names from a ballot initiative petition. The group argued that if the provision is either declared unconstitutional or determined not to have been followed correctly, its initiative should be on the ballot.
According to the five-member court's brief order, concurring and dissenting opinions would follow in "due course."
“This is a win for every Utah voter who recognizes their vote has always counted. Special interest groups, regardless of how much money they spend, cannot usurp our laws and force the state to place their failed initiative on the ballot after the people have already said no,” said Phill Wright, executive director of Keep My Voice, a group that stopped the initiative from getting on the ballot.
Count My Vote spokesman Taylor Morgan said the decision is disappointing, but dual path access to the ballot remains in place under the 2014 law the Legislature passed as SB54.
"Candidates are using SB54. There's no question that Utah voters support the dual path process to the ballot. Count My Vote will continue to pursue every option to defend and promote the dual path process," he said.
In a hearing last week, much of the arguments centered on a person's right to sign and remove their signature from an initiative petition. Justices also honed in on the 30-day period during which signers can remove their names after the petition is submitted to the state elections office for verification.
Just over 113,000 voters statewide must sign an initiative, and the threshold must be met in at least 26 of the 29 districts. Count My Vote says it submitted more than 131,000 validated signatures.
Keep My Voice, which had initially intended to circulate a counterinitiative doing away with the candidate nomination law that created the dual path to the primary ballot, targeted petition signers in specific Senate districts.
Nearly 3,000 people removed their names from the initiative, intended to maintain the current candidate nomination process that offers an alternative to the traditional political party caucus and convention system to get on the primary election ballot.
As a result, the initiative fell short of the required signatures in three state Senate districts where the required threshold had been exceeded, according to the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees elections.
Count My Vote argued that the signature removal process "stacks the deck" in favor of an initiative's opponents. Keep My Voice counters that the ability for people to remove their names from a petition is not only fair, it's the law.
Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green defended the 30-day period, noting those supporting an initiative have more than eight months to collect signatures. He said the law gives time for the state elections office to verify the signatures and people an opportunity to see if their names were fraudulently added to the petition.
Count My Vote attorney Matt Cannon contended that the ability for people to take their names off the petition amounts to "veto power" over the entire initiative. The right to sign a petition and the right to remove a signature are not equal, he said.
Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy council for Alliance for a Better Utah, said a small fraction of the population should not have the ability to negate tens of thousands of Utahns.
"We are disappointed that a small group of moneyed interests were able to exploit a weakness in Utah’s initiative law leading to this unfortunate ruling," he said in a statement.
Utah lawmakers, he said, must close the "glaring disparity" between the signature gathering and signature removal processes and provide a fair opportunity for voters to express their views at the polls.