Utah Republicans will attempt to repeal bylaw that kicks signature-gathering candidates out of the party

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The Utah Republican Party will once again attempt to repeal a possibly illegal bylaw that strips party membership from candidates who gather signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

At Saturday’s State Central Committee meeting, the party will consider a proposal to repeal the bylaw that stands in opposition to state law, which allows candidates to either gather signatures, use the traditional caucus and convention path, or both in order to secure a spot in a party primary.

In 2018, a group of hardliners on the party’s governing committee passed the bylaw, which could have forced all Republican candidates off the ballot that year. Former party chairman Rob Anderson refused to send the bylaw to the state elections office, and Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said they would ignore the rule because it came too late in the 2018 election cycle. 

Utah law allows political parties to choose one of two designations. If a party wants to use the traditional convention system to nominate candidates, they must also allow candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot. Otherwise, the only route to the ballot available for a party is through signature-gathering. The bylaw eliminated the signature path and could have resulted in Republican candidates being booted off the ballot and forced to run as independents. 

A large number of those hardliners were replaced on the SCC this year, which has led to a moderating effect on the group. In September, the SCC attempted to repeal the bylaw in question but still fell a few votes short. The party’s Convention and Bylaw Committee has recommended a complete repeal of the bylaw to bring the Utah GOP back into sync with state law.

In addition to the attempt to undo the bylaw, Republican SCC members will consider a counterproposal that would reinstate any candidates ejected from the party if the Utah legislature repeals the dual-path system. The idea is sponsored by Dave Bateman, a multimillionaire who bankrolled the Keep My Voice group that successfully blocked the Count My Vote initiative from reaching the ballot last year. Bateman’s proviso was opposed by the party’s Constitution and Bylaws committee.

Another idea that may come under consideration on Saturday is an effort to deal with the plurality issue created by the signature-gathering path which could result in three or more candidates on a primary ballot. A proposed modification to the convention rules would sort candidates into two categories at the party’s state convention. Each group would advance one or two candidates to the primary ballot as Republicans. Any other candidate who attempts to get on the ballot through signature-gathering outside of the convention would not be allowed to run as a Republican. The idea, while creative, would likely run afoul of state law.

Republicans may also tighten requirements for party members who participate in the Electoral College. Under Utah law, any elector who casts a ballot for a person not nominated by their party, known as a faithless elector, is disqualified and the party may select a new elector. However, a recent federal court decision found that states may not penalize electors when they vote for a candidate other than their party’s nominee. The proposed modification requires an elector to sign a pledge that they will vote for the party’s candidate. That approach has been upheld in other court decisions.