Bill to Delay Count My Vote Compromise Fails in House Committee

Rep. Fred Cox’s attempt to push back the implementation of the Count My Vote compromise to 2018 suffered an unceremonious death in a House committee on Tuesday morning.

HB 281 fell on a 6-3 vote despite pleas from Rep. Cox, R-West Valley City, and Republican party officials that they would not be able to comply with the provisions set forth in last year’s compromise.

“I’m just looking for an effective delay,” said Cox. “I’m not trying to pull the rug out on a deal I object to. I’m just asking for time.”

Cox said the compromise, which creates a dual track system to reach the primary ballot, is unfair to candidates who are considering a run in 2016.

“It sometimes takes years to work things out,” he said. “This current law creates an unsure footing for candidates. I do believe the request for more time is something we need to consider.

Those sentiments were echoed by Republican Party Chairman James Evans who said his party simply doesn’t have time to implement the changes required by the bill.

“This is a complex bill and we are a large organization,” said Evans. “The only rationale for picking 2016 (for implementation) was that it was the next election. We are the largest stakeholder here and it seems reasonable to me to delay implementation.”

Evans has consistently asserted his party simply does not have the time to make the changes to their constitution and bylaws to comply before 2016.

Kirk Jowers, one of the founders of Count My Vote, said delaying the compromise until 2018 was brought up during negotiations over the compromise last year. He was adamant that was a complete non-starter.

“When we came together last year, some asked if we could wait until 2018. That was of no interest to us,” said Jowers. “We wouldn’t even sit down at the table.”

Jowers said 2016 is a key date for a number of reasons.

“2016 is significant because it’s a big year for major elections. We will have a presidential, a gubernatorial and a U.S. Senate contest on the ballot that year. Punting this to 2018 for no reason other than leadership in one party is either unwilling or unable to make changes would delay the ability of Utahns to participate and vote in a major election until 2020.”

The Utah GOP has filed suit against the SB 54 compromise as well. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, threw water on the argument that it would be prudent to push back the effective date until 2018 because of that lawsuit.

“We pass a lot of bills up here that I don’t like. Is the lawsuit a good reason to delay this? If so, I could go out and file a lot of lawsuits,” she quipped.

David Irvine, an attorney who gathered signatures for the Count My Vote effort, told the committee that “a deal is a deal,” and it would set a terrible precedent if lawmakers were to delay that deal.

“The critical decision whether the party will comply rests entirely with the delegates. If the delegates want to delay, then state law would take second chair to those delegates who are more interested in killing the compromise than making a good faith effort to comply.”

Perhaps the killing stroke to Cox’s bill came from the State Elections Office. Mark Thomas, Director of Elections, was asked bluntly whether he thought it would be possible for the Utah GOP to comply with the tenets of SB 54 in time for the 2016 election cycle.  

“As I look at the statute and the timeline the Utah GOP has given us, they have an opportunity to make the changes they need to. I do not see it as an impossible task,” he said.

The failure of Cox’s bill leaves the future of a couple of other pieces of legislation targeting the Count My Vote compromise in doubt. SB 43 from Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is identical to HB 281. If it’s approved by the Senate, it would likely have to make its way through the same committee in the House that rejected Cox’s bill. Jenkins is also sponsoring SJR 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the state from interfering with how political parties nominate their candidates.

No one can accuse any of the lawmakers of being inconsistent in their decisions regarding HB 281. The six lawmakers who voted against HB 281 voted for the Count My Vote compromise last year. The three who voted in favor either were not in the Legislature last year or voted against SB 54 in 2014.