Under 'Count My Vote,' Most Dems Would Need Few Signatures to Get on the Ballot

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

The axiom goes, “Life is not fair.”

And so it would be for Republican and Democratic candidates in Utah should the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition becomes law in the Beehive State.

 

Any candidate, the CMV initiative says, who gets 2 percent of his party’s registered voters in his district, or office, to sign his candidacy nomination petition will get his name on his party’s primary ballot.

But, of course, in Republican-dominated Utah, in most races a GOP candidate will have to get more – in some cases, many more – signatures on his candidacy petition than his Democratic counterparts.

And minor, third-parties – well, their candidates may only need to get dozens of names on their candidacy petitions to make their party’s primary ballot.

It’s “fair” to make GOP candidates work harder to get their names on a Republican primary ballot, CMV backers say, because there are so many more Republicans in Utah – and a party’s primary process should proportionally include the same percent of party members.

In an effort to make the candidate nomination process more reflective of a party’s overall strength in a geographic election area (like a Utah House district), the CMV petition (found here) bases the threshold of getting on a party’s primary ballot on the number of registered party members living within the office’s geographic area.

For example, if you were running as a Democrat for Salt Lake County mayor, the number of Democratic signatures you would need on your candidacy petition would be 2 percent of all the registered Democrats in Salt Lake County. (Today, that number is 60,552.)

If you were running for governor as a Republican, you would need to gather on your candidacy nomination petition 2 percent of all the Republicans registered in the state – since the governorship is a statewide election. (Today, that would be 659,798.)

So, if you were a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, you would need to gather 2 percent of 659,798 registered Republicans, or 13,195 GOP voter signatures on your candidacy petition. Any Republican running for the U.S. Senate would have to reach that threshold, or his name wouldn’t be on the GOP primary ballot for that race.

But if you were a Democrat running for the same office, you would only have to gather 2 percent of 140,789 (today) registered Democrats in Utah, or 2,815 Democratic signatures.

If, say, an independent voter signed your GOP candidate nomination petition, that signature wouldn’t count toward your total requirement.

The CMV petition reads that, among other qualifications, a candidate’s nomination petition must be “signed by at least 2 percent of the registered political party’s members” who resident in the political subdivision of the office the person seeks.

Thus, if the candidate is a Republican, he has to get 2 percent of the Republican registered voters in his district, not just 2 percent of any voters, whose numbers would equal 2 percent of the GOP voters in the district.

The difference could be critical.

For example, let’s say that former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. decided to run for the U.S. Senate in Utah as a Republican. Huntsman has come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

It could be a real challenge for Huntsman to get 2 percent of registered Republicans to sign his candidate nomination petition – he would need 13,195 Republicans who didn’t care about his same-sex marriage stand or otherwise thought he deserved to be on the GOP U.S. Senate ballot.

It would be much easier for Huntsman to get 13,195 voters to sign his nomination petition if he could count Democrats and independents in that total.

Taylor Morgan, CMV executive director, tells UtahPolicy that it makes sense to get base support from your own party members to make the primary ballot.

The 2 percent threshold also would discourage “non-serious” candidates from trying to get on a party’s primary ballot, said Morgan.

Over the years there have been plenty of “outsider” candidates who run just to make a name for themselves, to be included in pre-primary debates or for other “non-serious” reasons.

CMV-backers like the base-party support requirement so as to side-step a complaint by Utah Republican Party bosses that non-Republicans – through the candidate nomination petition process -- could have a say in who their party’s nominees may be.

Clearly, Republicans – who have 659,789 members in Utah – have a larger pool to draw from than, say, Libertarians, who have only 7,365 members statewide.

A Libertarian statewide candidate would only have to gather 147 (2 percent) of his party members’ signatures. But he may have to travel some distances to get to those 147 Libertarians onboard.

The GOP statewide candidate would have to gather 13,195 signatures from registered Republicans.

But he might be able to do that outside of several Utah County shopping malls over several weekends of work.

At least three times this year – one just last weekend – the Utah Republican Party Central Committee refused to modify their caucus/convention regulations to, in some manner, address the concerns of CMV backers.

One complaint about the caucus/convention system is that a few county or state GOP delegates control which Republican candidates make it to their party’s primary ballot.

A few dozen or hundred state GOP delegates may deny an incumbent Republican governor a re-election chance, or a small number of delegates get to pick a U.S. Senate nominee.

In both instances (which have happened over the last decade) general Republicans throughout the state did not get a chance to vote on a GOP incumbent in a primary election, CMV backers argue.

As it is now, any Republican or Democrat can file for an office and he or she will appear before county or state convention delegates, who will vote on them.

There is no “pre-qualifying” candidate requirement, except that the candidate must be a registered party member and meet certain residency rules.

Under the CMV initiative, delegates at convention have NO say in who their party nominee is for any office. All candidates who meet the 2 percent candidate petition threshold go to their party’s primary ballot.

Who can vote in that primary is another matter entirely.

Currently, Utah Republicans hold closed primaries – under party rules you have to be a registered Republican to pick up a GOP primary ballot and cast a vote.

Under state law, any unaffiliated (independent) registered voter can, at the polls on primary Election Day, formally file as a Republican and pick up a GOP ballot and chose you favorite party candidate.

Democrats hold open primaries. If you are a registered Democrat or an independent you can get a Democratic ballot. If you are a registered Republican (or registered in any party other than Democratic) you can’t participate in a Democratic Party primary election.

The GOP closed primary tends to force independents, even Democrats, to registered as Republicans – at least in the primary season – so they can vote in the majority party’s primaries.

For example, I knew a leader in the state Democratic Party who lived in Davis County – a very Republican area.

He used to sign up as a Republican just before primary Election Day so he could vote for more moderate GOP candidates in his county.

Then he would switch his party registration to “unaffiliated” for the rest of the year, only to repeat the process at the next general election year primary season.

He knew no Democrat would be elected to county or legislative offices in Davis County, so he wanted to have some say in who the GOP eventual winner would be.

It thus makes sense that Utah’s GOP voter rolls are actually inflated by citizens acting the same way – they may not really be Republicans, in the sense they don’t agree with the party’s county/state/national platforms.

But they register as Republicans so they can have some say in the primary election as to who the eventual officeholder will be – the Democrat having no real chance of winning in November, or maybe there isn’t even a Democrat on the November ballot at all.

The CMV initiative has another interesting element: Once a person signs a candidate’s get-me-on-the-primary-ballot petition, he can’t remove his name.

This requirement is aimed at preventing bitter intra-party gamesmanship.

One Democrat U.S. Senate candidate couldn’t, after the candidate filing deadline, attempt to get his Democratic opponent’s candidacy signees to remove their names, and thus disqualify his opponent from running in the Democratic primary election.

This is not the case in the general citizen initiative process.

It’s well known that many Utah legislators don’t like citizen initiatives. Lawmakers believe they should be the only group allowed to make law.

So, in an effort to generally hamper the initiative petition process, legislators passed a law saying that after citizen initiative petitions are turned in on April 15, for about a month those opposed to the initiative can try to get signees to remove their names.

Legislators also require that citizen initiatives be geographically balanced – 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts must sign citizen initiative petitions.

Let’s say that in several Senate districts initiative supporters have just barely reached that 10 percent threshold – then initiative opponents concentrate on those districts trying to get a few hundred signees to remove their names – and thus disqualify the initiative from the ballot.

Such shenanigans couldn’t be played under the CMV petition’s language – any group opposing a candidate couldn’t get his signees to remove their names from his primary qualification petition.

Also, the CMV initiative’s candidacy petition has no geographic requirements – other than the petition signatures must come from within the district the candidate is running for.

There is, for example, no 26 of 29 state Senate district requirement for a statewide candidate’s race.

Thus, if a Democrat was running for governor, he could gather all of the (today) required signatures of 2,815 Democratic voters from one small area.

He could get all of those signatures, say, outside of a Utah Jazz game in one night. Or he could get all of his signatures out of Salt Lake City.

A Republican running for governor would have a more difficult challenge – he could get his signatures from anywhere in the state, but he’d have to get 13,195 signatures instead of only 2,815.

A Republican running for Salt Lake County mayor would have to get 3,393 GOP signatures (today) to make the Republican primary ballot, whereas a Democrat in the same race would only have to gather 1,211 Democratic signatures to get on his primary ballot.

Finally, in the rare instance where there is a minority party officeholder in a majority party district, it will be easier to challenge that officeholder within his own party.

For example, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, holds the 4th Congressional District. But there are fewer registered Democrats in the 4th District than there are registered Republicans.

There are 130,632 registered Republicans in the 4th District, says Dave Hansen, who is running Republican Mia Love’s second attempt to unseat Matheson.

Two percent of that total means Love, or any other GOP candidate, would need to get 2,617 Republicans to sign their candidacy nomination petition to get on the GOP 4th District primary.

Matheson, or any Democratic challenger to him, would only have to get 686 Democrats to sign their nomination petitions.

Thus a potential Democratic challenger to Matheson would have to get fewer Democratic signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot than it would take GOP challengers to get on their party’s 4th District primary ballot.

Life is not fair – nor, apparently, should it be in some political instances.

  Republicans Democrats Libertarians
Statewide 659,798 140,789 7,365
2% of 13,195 2,815 147
SL County 169,632 60,552  
2% of 3,393 1,211  
4th Congressional District 130,876 34,288  
2% of 2,617 686