Legislative leaders discussing possible compromise on election law instead of veto override

Utah Capitol 02

Rather than spend time and energy searching for votes to override GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s veto of SB123 – a bill that would lay out the special election process if a U.S. House or Senate member leaves office before his term is up – UtahPolicy.com is told that Republican legislative leaders are looking for a compromise that could include a plurality solution now inherent in SB54.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who UtahPolicy.com is told is leading the discussions, says that as of now there is no compromise with Herbert and others.

And there may not be.

But, Adams says, “it would be a mistake” not to try to put something together this summer, with the big 2020 elections looming, the plurality issue under SB54 could end up with “ten or more candidates” on a primary ballot, where someone could win a party nomination with 13-to-20 percent of the vote.

“And that wouldn’t be good for Utah citizens, either,” said Adams.

SB123 – the only bill Herbert vetoed out of more than 500 passed in the general session – says that if there is a vacancy in a Utah congressional seat, then the Legislature will send up three names for the governor to appoint if it is a senator, and the current officeholder’s political party will send two names to the special election primary ballot if it is a House member.

Legislators can’t amend a bill in a veto override, just vote to uphold the veto or override it, so making the bill law.

Thus Adams is talking about a compromise that could be passed in a special session – either called by Herbert, or called by the Legislature itself under its new special session amendment to the Utah Constitution approved by voters in November.

Perhaps a compromise can be only on SB123, said Adams, and the plurality issue of SB54 wouldn’t be dealt with.

But, said Adams, it would be great if there could also be an agreement on how to deal with the occurrence – which has not happened yet – if a large number of candidates, via the signature-gathering route and two from convention – end up on a party’s primary ballot.

In a hotly contested, major race, like the open governor’s race in 2020, there could be eight or ten really good candidates (in the Republican Party, that wouldn’t likely happen in the minority Democratic Party) file for the office.

Let’s say each had a piece of the voter pie – you could have the top vote-getter tallying only around 20 percent, or less.

And so a candidate could advance to the final general election with upwards of 80 percent of his party voters wanting someone else.

Not good, says Adams.

While there has been talk in the Legislature about how to fix the plurality issue of SB54’s signature-gathering process, nothing has been done.

One idea, putting the decision into the hands of the party’s delegates in another convention, is not liked at all by SB54 supporters – for that would, in essence, bypass the signature-gathering process.

Another idea is to let someone win the nomination with, say, only 35 percent of the primary vote.

If no one gets that, a second runoff primary election between the top two vote-getters would soon be held.

But a second primary would be expensive for taxpayers and there are time constraints in running a June first primary and then a runoff during the summer – less time for general election campaigning/fundraising for Republicans, more time for the Democratic nominee who likely would have already been chosen, either in convention or in the June primary.

“We are meeting with the governor to discuss these issues,” said Adams.

Herbert has been a strong supporter of the dual candidate pathway, in part because his friend and political ally, U.S. Rep. John Curtis, ended up winning a special election in the 3rd Congressional District back in 2017 via the signature route.

If the Legislature and Herbert agree to throw a primary election back to party delegates to decide, almost certainly the electorate would see a more archconservative candidate in the final election – as would have been the case in the 2017 special U.S. House election if not for SB54.

House and Senate leaders are now polling their members about a veto override session, which under law must be started by May 13 – or the veto stands.