Proposed election changes are fizzling out as 2017 session comes to an end

Utah State CapitolAs UtahPolicy readers know, the issue of a plurality winner in a primary election is dead in the 2017 Legislature.

But still alive, embodied in SB114 now in the House, is changing filing deadlines for candidates: Specifically a different deadline for candidates who are taking the SB54 routes of petition-gathering only, or taking the routes of petition and convention routes at the same time – and a different filing deadline for candidates only going to old caucus/delegate/convention route.

And the philosophical and hard politics of having two filing deadlines – one for petition-gathers and a later filing for the convention route candidates only – is playing out in the back-room GOP debates.

House Republicans closed their Tuesday caucus to discuss those very issues.

SB114 sponsor Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and House sponsor Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, believe all candidates should have a week-long filing period in early January of a general election year – which would include all 104 members of the part-time Legislature, state offices, federal offices, county candidates and State School Board candidates.

But some the 62-member GOP House caucus don’t like that – they want convention-only candidates to file as they do now, a few days after the Legislature’s general session ends in mid-March.

The reason: UtahPolicy is told that those House Republicans worry that if all candidates file in early January, those lawmakers who have NO real opposition – no Republican against them in heavily GOP district or no GOP or Democratic candidate against them in a more bi-partisan district, will vote differently than they would with real opposition.

“Those House members (free from real election competition) may vote more like we see some senators do (in three out of four non-election years),” as one House Republican told UtahPolicy.

In short, those unopposed candidates may be less likely to reflect their overall constituencies, more likely to vote like small vocal groups may want them to – including the right-wing of the Republican Party.

The SB114 differences are not related directly to SB54 – although considering all the machinations around that 2014 compromise law one has to wonder.

As originally written, SB114 was Bramble’s attempt to solve the lingering SB54 issue of primary plurality – where because any number of candidates can get on a party’s primary ballot via signature gathering in a four or five person primary race the leading vote-getter could have less than 50 percent of the vote.

And, so, a party nominee could win without majority support from his party’s primary voters.

The Utah Republican Party’s governing Central Committee actually first agreed with SB54, then shunned it – and ended up endorsing Democrat Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck’s instant runoff bill.

With SB114 being amended in the House to kill its plurality language, Chavez-Houck’s HB349 flew through the House after the Republican Party’s endorsement but was quickly killed in the Senate.

So, will we have one general election year candidate filing deadline in the first week in January – no matter if you are gathering signatures or going only the convention route where delegates will decide your fate?

Or will we end up with two different candidate filing deadlines?

Then there’s this.

If the House passes SB114 with the dual filing deadline, that’s not going to fly in the Senate, especially since the Senate passed the original bill, with the original filing deadline in January unanimously. That, alone, should tell you the appetite for the double filing date just isn’t there.

In fact, it’s relatively safe to say that a dual filing date bill would likely be DOA if and when it gets to the Senate.

The result could be that will all the angst and political maneuvering this session over SB54, lawmakers could adjourn midnight Thursday with no real changes to the law at all – and we’d be headed to the 2018 elections under the same rules as we had in the 2016 elections.