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Politics & Government

Lawmakers Consider Legislative Fix For SB54's Legal Problems

Brian Grimmett

A federal judge issued an order last week indicating that the signature thresholds called for in Utah’s election laws are too high. With a few days left in the legislative session, one lawmaker has just introduced a bill to address that problem.

Two years ago the Utah Legislature passed a bill changing how political parties select their candidates. The law created an alternative path to the primary ballot by allowing candidates to bypass a party’s caucus and convention and gather signatures on their own. Currently, candidates have to get a specific number of signatures. For example, those seeking to be a member of the Utah House have to get one thousand signatures in order to get a spot on their party’s primary ballot. In some cases, that would mean getting signatures from as many as 57% of the people eligible to sign the petition.

Over the weekend, a judge issued an order indicating that he’s likely to strike that portion of the law down because that threshold is unconstitutionally high. To remedy that, Republican Rep. Kraig Powell introduced a bill that would lower the signature threshold to 2%.

“We’re the legislature, we’re the ones that are supposed to make the laws," he says "We want to keep it out of court and solve lawsuits where we have the ability to do that, let’s go ahead and fix it.”

But there are only a few days left in the legislative session. Republican Rep. Dan McCay was one of the original sponsors of SB54. He says time is only one of the many obstacles the bill will face.

“I got to be honest," he says. "I think a low threshold with signatures and balancing it against the caucus and convention system, in my mind, the caucus convention system is more affective.”

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Curt Bramble, the original Senate sponsor of SB54 says he thinks the legislature should be obligated to provide clarity to candidates, who can begin officially filing on Friday. The federal judge in the case has scheduled the next hearing for March 14th.  

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