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'The Compromise … Is Dead': Four Years After S.B. 54, Utah Legislature Tinkers With Election Laws

Austen Diamond
Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, is sponsoring H.B. 68.

A proposal to allow political parties to reduce candidate options to the primary ballot received its first approval in the Utah Legislature Tuesday.

Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said H.B. 68 would let a political party choose whether it will be a “single-path” or a “dual-path” party.

Under a compromise passed in 2014 and known as S.B. 54, candidates can participate in their party’s caucus-convention system, gather a certain number of signatures and guarantee themselves a place on the primary ballot, or do both.

Fawson’s bill would let a political party limit its candidates to choosing one or the other: convention or signatures.

“If they decide that they’re a single-path party, the candidate then has a decision to make,” Fawson said during a hearing in the House Government Operations Committee.  

“The candidate can decide to go down that signature path …or the candidate can decide to go through the caucus-convention system.”

Fawson noted the option would still exist for a political party to remain a “dual-path” party and leave its party elections unchanged.

Original House sponsor of S.B. 54 Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, came out in favor of the measure.

“We elected not to go this route in the compromise when we pushed this forward,” McCay said. “I’m fine with it now, at the end of the day. The compromise, in my opinion, is dead.”

McCay accused the group Count My Vote of breaking the deal by spearheading a ballot initiative this year to create direct primary elections.

The Utah Republican Party is also in the midst of a lawsuit to challenge the 2014 law.

Critics of H.B. 68 say it could narrow voter participation.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, warned against “forcing” candidates to participate in a political party.

“As we continue to have conversations about changing these various options, I see more and more individuals pulling away from both major parties,” she said, noting the creation of the United Utah Party last year by disenfranchised Republicans and Democrats.

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 7-3. It will now be heard by the full House.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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