It looks like the Legislature was able to accomplish what the political parties were unable to do - come to an agreement with organizers of the “Count My Vote” citizen’s initiative.
After a few false starts, lawmakers announced an agreement with “Count My Vote” to establish a secondary path to the primary ballot for candidates who don’t want to go through the existing caucus system while still preserving that system. Ironically, this system is what the “Count My Vote” group asked for originally.
The deal comes in the wake of Sen. Curt Bramble’s SB 54 which, if passed, would have rendered the “Count My Vote” petition drive moot.
At an unprecedented Sunday press conference at the State Capitol, representatives from both sides hailed the agreement as an historic change to Utah’s electoral system.
Count My Vote’s Rich McKeown said the three weeks of discussion that led to the compromise were tense, but productive.
“We have been at this for quite some time,” he said. “There’s a lot of chatter about this compromise, but it really is an elegant solution that will help enhance participation by all voters.”
In addition to the dual track system for getting on the primary ballot, the legislation also would open up primary elections to voters who are currently unaffiliated. Right now, any voter can participate in Democratic Party primary elections, while Republican primaries are closed to voters who do not wish to affiliate with the GOP.
Gov. Mike Leavitt, who spearheaded the “Count My Vote” effort, says the legislation accomplishes what they wanted to do in the first place - establish a direct primary election in Utah. He also said they had incentive to come to the table because of the threat SB 54 posed to their initiative effort.
“The fact that SB 54 might nullify our efforts was a material risk,” said Leavitt. “Allowing unafiliated voters to participate was not part of our original plan, but this was an important change.”
The alternative path allows a candidate to collect signatures to be placed on the primary ballot. A statewide candidate would need to gather 28,000 signatures. Congressional candidates would need ¼ of that (7,000 signatures), while State Senate would require 2,000 signatures and State House 1,000.
Last week CMV organizers announced they had already gathered 100,000 signatures for their petition drive. Many of the lawmakers at Sunday’s press conference acknowledged that astonishing number played a big role in getting them to come to a compromise. House Majority Leader Brad Dee said the current caucus system has produced “the greatest state government in the U.S.,” but he realizes many Utahns want change.
“This has not been an easy process for us. We understand the importance of including other voters. We want to say we listen and we want them to come to us and be a part of the process. Now the responsibility shifts to the public and voters. It’s imperative they grasp this opportunity.”
Dee also said more participation by voters means more responsibility for them as well.
“No longer can they (voters) let someone else do it. You must take advantage of this opportunity.”
The new version of SB 54 will be heard in a House committee on Monday morning. “Count My Vote” organizers say they will suspend all of their signature gathering activities once the bill is signed into law.
The agreement is not iron-clad, however. There is nothing to prevent future legislatures from coming back to the issue and altering the agreement, except maybe this...When asked what CMV will do with the considerable amount of money they have already raised, McKeown said the group has established a brand and they intend to continue weighing in on other issues.