‘Count My Vote’ readying 2018 ballot initiative to eliminate caucus/convention system for nominating candidates (updated)

UtahPolicy.com has been told that the group behind Count My Vote has decided to run a citizen initiative petition in 2018 that will do away with the caucus/delegate/convention route for candidates and only allow candidates to get on the primary and general election ballots via gathering voter signatures.

When CMV’s 2014 petition was in public discussion, various polls showed a majority of citizens supported the so-called “direct primary” option.

Also, UtahPolicy is told the new initiative will say that any vacancy in a partisan office will be filled by special election. Right now it is usually filled by appointment by local party officials.

That means, for example, in the case of filling the seat held by former-U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, there would have been no GOP 3rd District delegate vote, but all the candidates would get on the primary party ballot via signature gathering.

As UtahPolicy readers likely know, Chris Herrod got on Tuesday’s 3rd District GOP ballot via a delegate convention win, while Provo Mayor John Curtis (Tuesday’s winner) and independent businessman Tanner Ainge got on the ballot by gathering the required 7,000 GOP voter signatures.

CMV leaders, which include former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt and Gail Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller car dealerships, will raise the money needed to run a successful signature-gathering campaign – getting the 113,000 signatures of registered Utah voters to place the proposal on the 2018 general election ballot, UtahPolicy is told.

Those 113,000 signatures will be gathered, and hopefully verified by the Utah Elections Office, before lawmakers come into their general session Jan. 22.

It is still being debated, UtahPolicy is told, how the CMV petition will be enforced, should it pass.

But one option is to require all political parties who want their candidates to appear on the state-controlled ballot to follow the new CMV law.

If party leaders still want to have the caucus/delegate/convention route, then those candidates’ names could not be listed under the Republican Party or Democratic Party banner on the ballot, couldn’t be associated with the GOP signature elephant, the Democratic donkey, on the ballot.

In other words, on the state-controlled ballot, the caucus/delegate/convention candidate(s) would have no party I.D. associated with his or her name – in essence running as an independent candidate.

The Utah Republican Party is in debt by around $300,000 in legal fees after challenging the 2014 compromise SB54 in both state and federal courts – losing in all venues.

Whether the Utah GOP, now under new leadership, would choose to fight the new petition/law in court is unknown.

Tuesday’s GOP 3rd District primary results finalized the CMV leaders’ planning, UtahPolicy is told.

Curtis, who took the dual SB54-route – convention and signature gathering – won, Herrod, who took only the delegate/convention route, finished second. The CMV’s leaders’ statement on the election result is here.

Preliminary vote counts show 70 percent of GOP 3rd District voters DID NOT want Herrod – the delegates’ choice.

It’s likely, come the 2018 Legislature, the GOP-controlled House will vote to gut or repeal SB54 – the 2014 legislative comprise with the old CMV petitioners. It’s unclear if the state Senate will go along, and it appears GOP Gov. Gary Herbert may veto an SB54 repeal, anyway.

Still, it is also clear that future Republican Legislatures will likely go back, at some time, on the SB54 compromise law.

And CMV leaders figure that – unable to trust lawmakers’ promise on SB54 – it is time just to organize, spend the money, and put an outright repeal of the caucus/delegate/convention route to a party primary before voters once and for all.

UtahPolicy is told, as of now, there will be no attempt to negotiate with GOP lawmakers in the 2018 Legislature, as CMV did with them in 2014, resulting in the SB54 compromise.

The petition will just go forward to voters in November 2018 for an up or down citizen decision.

About half the states in the U.S. have only a candidate signature route to a party primary – or a “direct primary” — with varying thresholds that must be met to get on the ballot.

It was rumored that CMV leaders had also been considering running several election reform issues on petitions next year – including campaign donation limits (Utah has none at the state level), term limits on state officials, and a nonpartisan redistricting commission to redraw U.S. House and legislative districts every 10 years.

But in the end, UtahPolicy is told, CMV leaders decided to just stick with how candidates can get on the primary or general election ballots and how vacant partisan offices are filled.

If CMV leaders are successful, come the 2020 elections – where there will be gubernatorial, legislative and U.S. House seats up for election, among others – the only way candidates will get on the ballot is by gathering voter signatures – the number required could be the same as in SB54, or could be different in the CMV petition.

UPDATE: Rich McKeown of “Count My Vote” said in a statement: “Count My Vote is considering every option to assure that all Utah voters have a voice in choosing candidates. We are not yet committed to moving forward with a new initiative.”