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Utah Could Revert To Caucus-Only System Under Proposed Law, Unless Voters Say Otherwise

Julia Ritchey
Republican delegates at the June 2017 special caucus convention for Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

Utah’s Republican majority is pushing through some last-minute changes to laws that could complicate this year’s general election.

The first bill addresses a four-year-old election compromise law known as S.B. 54 that allowed candidates to choose how to get onto the primary ballot: through their party’s caucus convention or by gathering signatures, or both.

A ballot initiative called Count My Vote will ask voters this fall whether they want to keep that dual path open to candidates.

If they don’t, and Count My Vote fails, a bill passed by the Utah House on Wednesday would revert back to the caucus-only system.

Rep. Dan McCay, the bill’s sponsor, said it’s time for the state to let the voters decide.

“We should be trying to find policy that brings people together and stabilizes the process and makes it predictable," he said. "Since we passed Senate Bill 54 in 2014, the opposite has actually occurred. Instead of creating stability in elections, we’ve created instability.”

Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed the move.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck said she’s concerned the repealer bill could mean a return to the status quo.

“We’ve only had two series of general elections that have allowed for the provision of utilization of this process," she said. "In my heart of hearts, I think there should always be another pathway.”

McCay’s bill would also shorten the filing window for a signature-gathering candidate from two and a half months to just five days at the beginning of January.

Organizers behind the Count My Vote were critical of the measure, and accused the House of "playing games" with existing law. 

If Count My Vote gathers 113,000 signatures by April, a question on candidate pathways will likely appear before voters this fall. 

GOP Infighting 

Another bill that cleared the House on Wednesday seeks to smooth over a controversial bylaw change by the Utah GOP's governing central committee. Hardliners within the state party recently ruled that certain candidates gathering signatures could not run as Republicans.

The bill, H.B. 485, instructs the state to more or less ignore the Utah GOP’s decree and continue to allow candidates to pursue the dual path to the ballot through their party's caucus or signature gathering.

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