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State May Ignore Utah GOP’s Bylaw Change Under New Bill

Austen Diamond / KUER

Utah lawmakers advanced a bill Monday giving the Lt. Governor authority to ignore the state GOP’s controversial rule change targeting candidates who gather signatures.

A group of right-wing Republicans on the party’s State Central Committee passed the rule just over a week ago. It says if candidates in certain races try to collect signatures to get on the primary ballot, it would kick those candidates out of the party.

But Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, introduced a bill on Friday that would act as if the party never even passed that rule. McKell argued that when the Utah GOP certified as a Qualified Political Party for 2018, it committed to a certain set of rules.

“That’s why it’s important to step in and say, ‘look, in November you chose a set of rules and now you’ve got to follow them,’” McKell told a House committee Monday.   

His bill would allow Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, as head of state elections, to disregard any party bylaws adopted after an election cycle begins. The Lt. Governor’s office supports the bill.

McKell warned that if the bill fails there could be litigation and chaos this election season.

Some members of the Republican Party came to speak against the legislation.

“It is time for the state of Utah to allow political parties to be in charge of themselves,” said Phill Wright, one of the central committee members behind the GOP bylaw. He called H.B. 485 “retroactive” and urged lawmakers to repeal the 2014 election law compromise known as S.B. 54.  

But lawmakers on the panel disagreed and voted 9-3 to advance the bill to the House floor. It still needs to pass both chambers before the legislative session ends Thursday night.

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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