Supreme Court denies Count My Vote’s bid for ballot inclusion (Updated)

The Utah Supreme Court said drop dead to more than 800,000 Utahns Friday, denying Count My Vote backers the ability to put their popular citizen initiative on November’s ballot for voter consideration.

Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee signed the brief announcement, saying the full opinion will come later.

It’s a big win for the Keep My Voice minority of Utahns, who were successful in getting several hundred CMV signees to remove their names from the Count My Vote petition – thus making the CMV effort fail under Utah’s citizen initiative law.

However, Rich McKeown, executive co-chairman of Count My Vote, told UtahPolicy that his group is not likely to give up.

“For eight years (SB54 and Count My Vote) has consumed our lives,” said a clearly disappointed McKeown. “I can’t see us stopping now.”

Besides trying to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to act on some changes to SB54, McKeown said his group may well look into making changes to the current CMV petition.

There could be a possibility, that if enough changes were made to CMV as written today, it could come back in a substantially-different approach, and thus not be the “same” petition as was defeated this year, and make the 2020 ballot.

Under current initiative law – made more restrictive over the years by Utah legislators – a failed petition drive can’t go before citizens again for four years.

That means the current Count My Vote petition couldn’t come back in 2020 – but must wait until at least 2022.

In any case, McKeown said, CMV supporters may look to the 2019 Legislature to adjust the current SB54 candidate dual pathway law to resemble the now-failed CMV initiative.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has promised he will veto any legislative attempt to repeal SB54 – much hated by right-wing state Republican Party leaders, who have tried, but failed, to get both state and federal courts to rule it unconstitutional.

Herbert told UtahPolicy.com Managing Editor Bryan Schott last week in a podcast interview that there could be changes to SB54 in 2019 – changes that could make the law better.

Perhaps that could be the CMV petition’s lowering of the signature-gathering thresholds – which would make it even easier for candidates to gather the required number of voter signatures to get on a party’s primary ballot.

Or perhaps it could be CMV’s primary runoff election provisions – which says if no candidate gets at least 35 percent of the primary vote, the top two vote-getters face off in a quick runoff election to win their party’s nomination.

But those issues now go down the road.

The Utah Supreme Court announced Friday that the CMV initiative will not be on November’s ballot.

Utah has 1.34 million registered voters, Utah Election Office statistics show.

In his most recent poll for UtahPolicy.com, Dan Jones & Associates finds that 63 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” support the CMV initiative.

Take 63 percent of 1.34 million, and you get 834,184 Utah voters that, because of the high court’s decision, will NOT get the chance to vote for CMV.

So, because of the decision, the wishes of 834,184 voters will be ignored – at least for now.

CMV needed 113,000 signatures to make the ballot. The group got more than 130,000.

But the Legislature – which has never liked the constitutional-guaranteed citizen initiative petition process – several years ago made the petition process harder by allowing opponents of any petition to get the names and addresses of all petition signees, and have 30 days to approach signees and convince them to take their names off the original petition.

Keep My Voice, with more than $400,000 from one donor, was able to remove around several hundred signees in two of the required 26 state Senate districts. It was CMV’s appeal of that negative effort that was before the Supreme Court.

But it was clear by the questions of four of the five justices that they didn’t like the CMV appeal – and didn’t want to declare unconstitutional the signature-gathering repeal process passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Asked by UtahPolicy if CMV had “made a mistake” in not getting more signatures in several of the more-rural state Senate districts, McKeown said: “It sure looks that way now.”

But he added that because of the very restrictive requirements – i.e., the need to get 10 percent of signatures in 26 of 29 Senate districts – “maybe there could have been nothing we could do” to get the petition certified with such a well-funded opposition.

“It has been proven” that even a popular initiative like Count My Vote “can be defeated” if there is a well-funded opposition, which has such advantages like getting names and addresses of petition signees and having 30 days to personally confront them and ask that they remove their signatures.

McKeown said CMV will have spent around $1.5 million this year, even more back in 2014 when the group was well on its way to getting certified, but stopped after the 2014 Legislature passed SB54 – the current dual pathway law.

Keep My Voice officials have said previously that they will not speak to UtahPolicy.com about their anti-SB54/Count My Vote activities.