The Utah Senate advanced a proposed amendment to the state constitution giving political parties absolute authority on how they select their candidates.
SJR 2, sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is seen as a reaction to the Count My Vote compromise from last year, which put in place a dual track system to the primary ballot.
Lawmakers advanced the proposed amendment on a 17-12 vote Monday afternoon. However, in order to win final approval, the amendment needs a positive vote from 2/3 of Senators.
"A political party should be able to decide how their candidate goes to the ballot. If we want to draw straws, then we should be able to draw straws," said Jenkins. "This amendment says the state will hold the elections, but the parties will have the right to decide how those candidates are on the ballot."
That ultimate authority was a bridge too far for Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. He says the language in the proposed amendment would put political parties above the legislature. He worries that a political party could force the state to pay for multiple primary elections if that's how they decide to put candidates on the ballot.
"The amendment says the rights of a political party 'may not be infringed.' It's critical to understand what that means" he warned his colleagues. "This would give those parties the absolute constitutional right to trump the authority of this legislature. That creates some very serious concerns."
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he's willing to approve the amendment this year so that lawmakers can refine the bill over the next year before placing it on the ballot in 2016.
Sen. Todd Weiler countered that since the state spends $2-3 million during an election year to hold a closed primary for the GOP, lawmakers have a right to put requirements on political parties.
"We've been telling the parties what they shall do to get on the ballot all the way back to 1994," said Weiler.