The Road Ahead for ‘Count My Vote’

Two thirds of “Republican insiders” believe the Count My Vote effort of gathering enough voter signatures to get election “reform” on the 2014 ballot will succeed.


Each week, UtahPolicy asks a panel of GOP and Democratic insiders – picked by our editors — to respond to a specific politics-related question. That information is published every Monday.

While in no way a scientific/statistically-accurate measurement, the survey (in which readers are invited to vote as well) does generally reflect the thinking of some of Utah’s political leaders/civically-active participants.

You can read those invited to respond at the end of each published poll question and results. The individual’s poll votes and comments are anonymous.

Monday’s poll is here.

It finds that 66 percent of Republican insiders believe the CMV ballot proposition will make the ballot, while 56 percent of Democratic insiders think the initiative will ultimately be successful. readers are less certain; only 48 percent believe the initiative petition will ultimately be successful.

The CMV board, which includes publisher LaVarr Webb, has been systematically approaching the always-difficult task of gathering enough voter signatures to get a measure on the ballot.

In financial filings with the state last week Rich McKeown, CMV president, reported that the group has raised just under $550,000, in the effort to accumulate $1.5 million.

CMV has already conducted a scientific public opinion poll. McKeown declines to share its results with UtahPolicy.

However, Monday McKeown did say he found the UtahPolicy insider survey interesting, not only the results but especially the insider comments at the end of the story.

“The comments at the end,” said McKeown, “are the kind of stuff we’re hearing – that it is time for a change and (Utahns) are quite ready to embrace a (primary election system) more inclusive of the entire electorate.”

To get an initiative on the ballot, state law requires that a certain percent of the residents who cast ballots in the last presidential election must sign a citizen petition, and that 10 percent of the voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts must also sign on.

For 2014, that overall number will be just over 101,000 signatures statewide.

While that large number is challenging, recent unsuccessful citizen petition drives show the more difficult bar to reach is the 10 percent in 26 of 29 Senate districts.

That requires significant work in some rural areas of the state – more conservative voters, perhaps less inclined to support “reform,” harder to reach face-to-face and get a signature.

The Lt. Governor’s State Elections Office has ruled there is no process to accept online signatures, a position upheld by the Utah Supreme Court.

McKeown has said for some time that CMV will employ paid petition signature gathers, giving the PIC a greater chance of success.

While the Utah Legislature has considered online petition signatures and online voting in general, no such laws have yet passed.

Mark Thomas, head of the Elections Office and chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, explains the petition process this way:

Political Issue Committees (PICs) must by April 15, 2014, file all their individual petition packets (containing voter signatures) with the 29 county clerks.

The clerks have 30 days, or until May 15, to verify each signature – that is, say this is a valid signature, this one is not and can’t be counted.

While some counties will have only several hundred signatures, large-population counties, like Salt Lake County, will have tens of thousands of signatures to pore over and verify.

For that reason, the clerks and Thomas’ office urge PICs to turn in packets before the April 15 deadline, so clerk employees (in some small counties just a few people) have time to do a good verification job and meet the May 15 deadline.

From April 15 to May 15, opponents to any petition drive can find out who signed the petitions, go back to those signees and ask them to take their names OFF of the petition.

But after May 15, when the clerks must turn over all verified names to the state Elections Office, no one may take their name off.

And during those 30 days – April 15 to May 15 – there is no way a person who takes his name off can change his mind (again) and put his name back on a petition.

By June 1 the state Elections Offices recounts all the verified names and announces whether a petition makes the ballot or has failed. (And, of course, you can always go to court and ask a judge to overturn the Election Office’s decision.)

So, let’s talk political strategy for a moment:

The Utah State Republican Party is against what CMV is trying to do – which is to somehow open up parties’ primary ballot to more candidates.

The GOP’s Central Committee twice voted down several ideas that would open ups its primaries; and state GOP delegates also refused to change their caucus/convention process.

The final wording of the CMV petition has not yet been released. However, the most likely alternatives are either to allow a party candidate to bypass the caucus/convention system and, with enough voter signatures, get his name directly on the primary ballot.

A candidate could still make the primary ballot by going through the caucus/convention system and, with the approval of county or state delegates, get on the party’s ballot.

Or, CMV could just move to allow all qualified candidates to go directly to a primary ballot – as is now the case in most Utah municipal elections.

If CMV signature-gathers turn some petitions in early next spring, before the April 15 deadline, that will give GOP officials more time to identify party loyalists who may have signed the CMV petitions and convince them to take their names off.

Thus, it behooves CMV to deliver all of their petitions on the April 15 deadline, not before.

McKeown told UtahPolicy on Monday, “Within a few weeks you’ll see us come forward with several things: Flush out the structural components of the effort and announce with greater specificity some language to the solution we recommend.”

In political talk, that probably means more leaders/supporters of the CMV petition will be announced, fundraising committees formed and such, and the petition language itself will be floated publicly and likely soon filed with the state Elections Office.

McKeown said the CMV poll, still private, didn’t ask the same question as the UtahPolicy insider survey – whether or not the petition is likely to get on the ballot.

And so the results are not “a match,” McKeown said.

But McKeown still believes that the required number of signatures can be achieved.

Former Utah State GOP chairman Thomas Wright is on record saying that if the CMV petition makes the ballot, he believes it will pass.