Bill Could Kick Primary Election Decision Back to Conventions

State Rep. Marc Roberts has introduced a primary election bill that some have called the “nuclear option” – for it could defeat one of the main goals of the 2014 Count My Vote citizen initiative.

Roberts, R-Santaquin, Thursday put forward HB313, which says if a party holds a primary election, and among a multi-candidate field no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the nomination goes back to the party for a decision.

In real terms, this means that if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the primary vote, then the nomination is kicked back to the party delegates in a convention.

HB313 is a reaction to last year’s compromise bill SB54 and the Count My Vote citizen initiative of 2014.

GOP leaders have been complaining about SB54 ever since it was passed in the 2014 Legislature. And in December the State Republican Party sued the state over SB54 in federal court, claiming, among other things, that it is a violation of the constitutional right of free association.

A federal judge has put that lawsuit on hold until after the 2015 Legislature, to see if lawmakers make any changes to that law.

CMV leaders have said that throwing a party’s candidate nomination back to the delegates is exactly the wrong thing to do.

One of the main arguments for the CMV citizen initiative petition, which would have done away with candidate nominations via the caucus/delegate/convention system, is that such a process produces Republican candidates more conservative than rank-and-file party members, and Democratic candidates more liberal than rank-and-file party members.

So any new process that puts candidates back into the party delegate process defeats that CMV goal of a more representative candidate election process.

On the other side, some backers of SB54 say there is a problem in having an open primary where any candidate who can get a certain number of voter signatures – as SB54 allows – makes the ballot. That would allow for any number of candidates being on the party’s primary ballot.

In a multi-candidate race, the winner could emerge with a plurality – say 40 percent – of the vote.

The Legislature could adopt a second round primary, which some states have, where the top two vote-getters would advance.

But it now costs around $1.7 million for the state to run a primary election, and opponents of SB54 say taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that twice in one election year.

HB313 is one way around that second primary, or solve a primary plurality winner, should a multi-candidate primary not yield a clear majority winner.

There are several bills already introduced in the 2015 Legislature that would postpone SB54 until after the 2016 elections – a move some have called the “Save Mike Lee” alternative, since challengers to the freshman U.S. senator would have to go through the GOP delegate selection process, where Lee is estimated to be very strong.

State Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsor of SB54, predicts nothing will be done on the new law this session, with legislators keeping their promise to CMV backers when the petition supporters ended their signature-gather drive with the SB54 compromise.