Utah Republican Party Poll Shows Public Support for Delaying SB 54

The Utah GOP says a new poll commissioned by the party shows public support for their lawsuit against the SB 54 compromise bill which was passed by lawmakers during the 2014 session.

According to the poll, 50% of Utahns support the SB 54 compromise, which established an alternative path to the ballot while preserving the current caucus and convention system. The Utah GOP has filed a lawsuit to keep SB 54 from going into effect, claiming they won't have enough time to make the changes mandated in the law before the 2016 election. If that happens, according to the party's lawsuit, there's the danger that Republican candidates would appear on the ballot without their party affiliation next to their name.

"The timeline set forth by SB 54 is unrealistic," said party chair James Evans at a Sunday news conference. "We are making an effort to comply, but this aggressive timeline puts us at a disadvantage."

SB 54 came about during the 2014 session after organizers of the "Count My Vote" claimed to have gathered more than 100,000 signatures to get their initiative on the ballot that would have killed the current caucus and convention system in favor of a direct primary. Lawmakers opted to not call CMV's bluff and passed SB 54 as a compromise measure.

According to the survey, when asked if political parties should be given more time to comply with the law, 56% of Utahns support that idea as do 56% of Utah Republicans.

The Utah GOP filed suit to block SB 54 from going into effect in December of 2014.

The survey also shows Utahns support that lawsuit against SB 54, insofar as allowing the courts to sort out any constitutional questions surrounding the legislation. 59% of Utahns and 67% of Republicans say they support letting the courts have their say about the law before it goes into effect.

"Utahns and Americans like the idea of having more choices, but not at the expense of being unfair," said Evans.

Some Republican lawmakers who were also on hand for the Sunday event were far more explicit in their dislike for the law. Sen. Scott Jenkins (R-Plain City) siad he plans to run legislation in the 2015 session designed to gut portions of SB 54 before they can ever take effect.

"As far as I'm concerned, 'Count My Vote' was always about 'control my vote'," said Jenkins. "SB 54 created a compromise that ended up hurting the party. It's our obligation as Republicans to do the best we can to prevent that."

Representative-elect Fred Cox (R-West Valley City) says SB 54 and "Count My Vote" would create a system where politicans like him would not be able to compete.

"When I originally ran for the Utah House to replace Ron Bigelow, I had a $60 budget," he said. "What we have now is a system that allws individuals to compete fairly. My situation would not happen under the SB 54 compromise.

UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates in early December found 62% of Utahns support the "Count My Vote" effort, and 55% say they don't want lawmakers to make any changes to SB 54.

Rich McKeown, executive co-chair of Count My Vote, says the current effort by the Utah GOP is disingenuous.

"SB 54 is an elegant solution that allowed for the preservation of the caucus system while allowing for more voter participation," he told UtahPolicy.com. "The Utah Republican Party forgets the law was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by a Republican Governor. They're trying to contradict the very notion that their party was involved."

Evans says the party plans to engage lawmakers during the upcoming 2015 legislative session hoping to press for changes to SB 54.

"There were some unintended consequences in SB 54, and we are hoping to mitigate those problems," said Evans. "We're also hoping they'll revisit the law entirely."

Evans says they're also getting ready for a statewide educational push to inform Utahns about the benefits of the caucus system and to clear up the misinformation surrounding the issue.

McKeown says "Count My Vote" is hoping the legislature stands down and leaves SB 54 alone during the upcoming session, especially since there is pending litigation against the law. He also expressed bewilderment at the efforts being put forward by the Republican Party to fight the law.

"The leadership in the Utah GOP, which is wanting, is ignoring the fact that an overwhelming number of Utahns want a system that is more open. The fact that they are beginning to cater to an increasingly smaller group of activists in order to keep an exculsionary system ought to be repugnant to lots of people."

The Utah Republican Party poll was conducted Dec. 18-23 among 542 Utah residents. It has a margin of error of +/-5.2%.