Utah House advances a sneaky attempt to repeal SB54, along with a bill to fix GOP ballot chaos

It’s all well and good to let the “people” decide a controversial issue at the ballot box.

Who could argue against that?

But in an attempt to let the “people” decide whether we should have SB54 – the law that has torn the insides out of the Utah Republican Party – state House members Wednesday opened the door to something very different:

Opponents to SB54 and the current Count My Vote citizen initiative petition can run an anti-CMV signature campaign whereby a few hundred rural registered Republicans could repeal the current dual pathway law.

What? How could this happen?

Well, you need to understand how the current petition signature process works.

You have to have some money.

And you have to I.D. rural folks who signed the Count My Vote petition and get them to take their names OFF of those petitions.

What follows is a bit confusing.

But here is an explanation:

Wednesday, one day before the 2018 Legislature ends, the Utah House passed a substitute to HB338, sponsored by Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton.

That substitute was proposed by Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, long a foe of the 2014 SB54 compromise law.

The House also passed HB485 by Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, another alternative to solve what hard, right-wingers in the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee did a few weekends ago.

Those right-wingers changed party bylaws in a special Central Committee meeting, an “illegal” action, according to McKell and others, which endanger GOP candidates running for federal, state and county offices this year.

Nothing gets GOP lawmakers’ attention more than an action – in this case, a minority group of CC members – that could harm their re-elections.

So, HB485 and HB338 quickly sprang up as the Republican legislative majorities in the House and Senate look for fixes.

Back to the substituted HB338:

Fawson’s changes specifically say that should the Count My Vote initiative fail this year, then the dual candidate pathway in the SB54 statute is repealed.

Much of the talk on the House floor debate centered on how the “voice of the people” will be heard in November’s Count My Vote ballot box vote.

If voters approve of Count My Vote, that will be the new law – much like the current SB54 statute language.

And if voters disapprove of CMV at the ballot box, then the “people” have spoken against it.

Ahhh, but there is a whole other option that NONE of the House members even mentioned in the debate:

What if Count My Vote-backers DON’T get their initiative on the ballot?

HB338, as amended, says the SB54 law WILL STILL BE REPEALED if Count My Vote fails this year.

Now, there is a lot of money behind CMV – millions of dollars.

And CMV backers say they are well on their way to gathering the 113,000 signatures of registered voters.

But here is the catch:

— Lawmakers – who in general don’t like citizen initiatives – changed the petition law several years ago saying that in addition to the overall signature requirements, petition sponsors must get 10 percent of voter signatures in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

It’s that 10 percent requirement that is the greatest challenge to petition gatherers.

Also, lawmakers changed the rules to allow OPPONENTS of petitions to get the names of all petition signees and then go back to those folks and lobby them to take their names off of the petitions.

Thus, in the case of Count My Vote – which has been opposed for four years by right-wing bosses in the Utah Republican Party – party leaders can go to registered Republicans who signed the CMV petitions in rural Senate districts and get them to take their names OFF of the petition.

If the anti-CMV folks have the money and organization to do that – then a few hundred rural Republican CMV petition signees can deny the petition certification.

And under HB338 – should it become law – the SB54 dual pathway law would be repealed.

Or the “voice of the people” wouldn’t be heard in a November vote on up or down SB54.


Just a few dozen registered Republicans could be “convinced” – maybe even under threat of having their Republican Party membership revoked – to take their names off of the CMV petition – the petition would fail – and SB54 would be repealed from state law.

Of course, state senators could refuse to pass HB338. Given the outcome of last year’s last-minute attempt to repeal SB54, that’s a very likely outcome.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert could veto it if it does pass.

House Republicans knew what they were doing when they passed both HB338 and HB485 on Wednesday. Sources within the House GOP caucus tell UtahPolicy.com that the message sent to members before the vote was, essentially, both bills pass or neither bill passes. 

However, the Senate GOP caucus is onto what the House is trying to do, and sources there tell us that HB338 is DOA. In fact, it may not get out of the Senate Rules Committee. But, HB485 has the green light.

It’s significant that HB485 failed to reach 50 votes in the House. That means it won’t go into effect immediately when it’s signed by Gov. Gary Herbert and will have to wait until the normal 60 days after adjournment before it’s implemented. That means, whatever fix lawmakers advance, won’t take hold until after the Republican State Convention in April. That may not mean much though, as a number of Republicans on the Hill expect this to head to the courts for a decision soon. 

Stay tuned. This topic will run right up to adjournment midnight Thursday.