Bob Bernick's Notebook: The Real Fight Over 'Count My Vote' Will Happen After the Signatures are Turned In

Written by Bryan Schott on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

News this week that the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition folks have raised more than $554,000 in their effort to get a change to political parties’ candidate nomination process on the 2014 general election ballot.

Considering the fund raising power of those behind the effort, including former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt (who gave $25,000 himself) and UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb, it seems certain that the CMV group will be able to meet their goal of $1.5 million.

 

The money will be spent to hire professional petition signature gatherers and run a sophisticated ad campaign convincing voters to adopt the ballot initiative.

It’s true that in recent years several popular (as determined by public opinion polls) initiative petitions failed to get enough voter signatures.

But these were volunteer efforts. As we’ve seen from all the petitions that make the California ballot, if one has enough money behind the effort and professional organizers, you can reach the required numbers.

As I’ve written before, I don’t see CMV having a problem getting the slightly-more-than 101,000 signatures required.

Rather, the challenge will be to get the additional requirement of 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

I still think that CMV can get those numbers, as well.

Actually, the real fight for CMV will come AFTER their signature packets are turned in to the state Elections Office on the April 15, 2014 deadline.

You see, Utah’s GOP legislators have for years disliked the state constitutionally-required citizen initiative process. They have passed laws making it harder and harder to get initiatives before voters.

Legislators think they are the only ones who should be passing new laws – citizens are just not educated enough, savvy enough, to make reasonable laws, even when legislators won’t do what citizens clearly desire.

So, one of the new laws is that opponents to any initiative petition can get petition signees to REMOVE their names from the petitions after the filing deadline.

Now, if you need 101,000 registered voter signatures and you gather 200,000, then it would be pretty tough for any group to convince 100,000 people to take their names off the petitions.

But, let’s say, if you are CMV and in some rural Senate district you have 11 percent of the voters’ signatures – 150 over the required 10 percent -- then an organized opponent might be able to turn those 150 folks.

Let’s get more specific.

The Utah State Republican Party has already announced that it opposed whatever CMV will do (based on GOP Central Committee and state delegate votes over the last six months).

And the state GOP is planning on running its own citizen initiative petition, cynically called My Vote Counts, which would seek to place the current caucus/convention candidate nominating system into law.

(It would be an interesting court test if BOTH the CMV and the MVC petitions pass in the 2014 election.)

So, let’s say that the CMV petition comes in with the required 101,000, plus the 10 percent or more in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

Once those petition names become public, it wouldn’t be that difficult for the state GOP to match petition names and addresses with registered Republicans (also public information).

Then the local GOP leaders in the various Senate districts could be employed (paid or not) to get in touch with the wayward local Republicans and lobby them to remove their names from the CMV petition.

It is often the case that local LDS Church leaders (current or former) are elected at the neighborhood caucus meetings to be local Republican Party leadership positions, as well.

That makes sense, within the LDS society a bishop, counselor, relief society leader would naturally be respected in their community, and so be trusted by their neighbors to represent them in GOP political functions.

How would you react if your current or former bishop, who is now a precinct chair or vice chair, county or state GOP delegate, called you up and asked you to remove your name from a political petition?

And how can CMV tell if 150 of their petition-signers in an outlying Senate district are being wooed by local GOP leaders – and thus get the opportunity to try to keep them from removing their names?

Sure, CMV, with enough money, could take to the TV and radio airways and ask that petition signers who are thinking about asking that their names be removed at least call a toll free number, or contact CMV by email, so the other side could be heard.

But I’m guessing that personal, neighbor-to-neighbor contact made by local GOP leaders could be quite persuasive.

So, while it is great to be able to raise $1.5 million and have paid petition signature gathers, and fancy TV ads available, it may come down to a real ground war come April and May 2014 as to whether CMV really can get, and keep, their required number of petition signees.

The next 12 months are going to be an interesting time on the citizen initiative petition front.