Bill proposes run-off contests in some primary elections

Utah State CapitolSen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, may have found an elegant solution to a thorny problem with Utah election law.

Bramble’s SB114 addresses the issue plurality in primary elections. Since Utah started allowing candidates to get on the primary election ballot by gathering signatures, many politicos (okay, Republicans) have worried having multiple candidates on the primary ballot could lead to someone winning a party nomination with less than a majority of the vote. That happens a lot in general elections, but many of the party faithful (again, Republicans) were clutching their pearls and fanning themselves at the possibility.

Bramble’s bill creates a process for having a runoff election in certain cases. Obviously, just two candidates in a race mean someone will get more than 50%. Three candidates mean one would win with approximately 35%. But, if there are four or more candidates in a primary race, Bramble’s bill would send the top-two into a primary election, unless one of them crosses that 35% threshold.

The runoff election would be by mail only. Overseas military members would get two ballots in a primary election – the main ballot and a runoff ballot that uses instant runoff voting (IRV). There wouldn’t be enough time to get overseas voters a runoff ballot in time to comply with federal election law, and Bramble says other states use the same system for runoffs. Besides, the number of overseas ballots would be very small. In the 2016 governor’s primary between Gary Herbert and Jonathan Johnson there were approximately 1,600 overseas ballots.

Those dual ballots for overseas voters are also important because it means that the state doesn’t have to move the primary election from mid-June. The runoff election would be on the last Tuesday in August.

Not having to move any election dates means there will still be plenty of time for possible recounts or challenges.

Bramble thinks his bill is the panacea to the heartburn many in the Utah GOP have from allowing signature gathering candidates on the primary ballot.

“The convention route to the ballot is the ‘gold standard,'” said Bramble. “Every candidate who gathered signatures to get on the ballot also went through the convention system in 2016, so the parties don’t have anything to worry about.”

Bramble’s bill does one more important thing. It moves the candidate filing period from mid-March to the first week in January.

Bramble says moving that filing date accomplishes two things. Legislators have to decide if they are running for another term before the legislative session, which will end the speculation over who may be retiring and who won’t. It also allows legislators who are running again to know who their opponents are before the session.

The Utah GOP has sued the state over the signature-gathering route to the ballot, but have promised to drop their suit if the plurality issue is resolved. This bill seemingly does that.

Bramble, Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and GOP Chairman James Evans presented the legislation to House and Senate Republican leadership on Thursday morning. Bramble says leadership and Evans pledged their support for the plan.