Lawmakers May Push for a Special Session to Change ‘Count My Vote’ Compromise

While there won’t be a special legislative session this fall on Medicaid expansion, there very well may be one on changing Utah election law – specifically SB54.

And that could end up a real dogfight – especially if GOP legislators try to throw party candidate nomination decisions back to party convention delegates if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

Count My Vote leaders have already said such a move would violate the spirit of the SB54 grand compromise – where CMV agreed to stop its initiative petition in 2014 if legislators agreed to allow an alternative route to a party ballot via signature gathering by candidates.

GOP House members met in a four-hour caucus Tuesday night in the Capitol.

Tops on the agenda was Medicaid expansion. And they decided not to support the Gang of Six’s Utah Access Plus plan.

But there was a second agenda item – a special session in October or November on “election law reform.”

A cagy UtahPolicy reporter (me) grabbed up a copy of the talking points on that subject when Republican legislators left the room, and GOP leaders prepared for a press conference of Medicaid expansion.

One of the possible discussion points for the special session (which can only be called by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert) is what to do with a plurality primary vote.

The talking point says: “nominee is chosen by the political party.”

That would mean the law would be changed to say that if no primary candidate gets at least 51 percent of the vote, the party will pick the general election candidate.

And that, of course, blunts the CMV petition and SB54, which allows a candidate to bypass the party convention delegates to get on the primary ballot via gathering a set number of voter signatures – and thus can win his party’s nomination WITHOUT going before delegates.

CMV started its petition drive in 2013 in part because organizers believe party delegates are more conservative in the Republican Party, and more liberal in the Democratic Party than are party members-at-large.

Since Republicans control state government – and have for 35 years – the result is a Governor and/or Legislature that is more conservative than the GOP voters in general – something not good for the electorate, CMV backers believe.

One of the answers CMV came up with in their petition is that ALL candidates go to a primary ballot – party delegates would have no say at all.

Fearing the petition would be passed by voters – and looking for a compromise to at least allow delegates to have some say – SB54 was put together.

Its main points are here.

SB54 provides for a dual route to a primary: A candidate can take the traditional route via the delegate vote in convention, or a candidate can collect a set number of voter signatures to make the ballot, or he can do both at the same time.

The Utah Republican Party sued the state over SB54 claiming constitutional violations – the lawsuit goes forward.

While there was no agreement in SB54 over plurality winner in a primary, both CMV and SB54 collaborators agree, it was still assumed that the candidate getting the most votes in the primary – even if under 50 percent – would win.

At the very least, CMV leaders say, they would have never agreed to SB54 if they believed at a later date GOP legislators would throw a primary decision back to party delegates if no candidate got 50 percent or more in the primary.

Also on the special session elections agenda will be changing various candidate-filing dates so that a SB54 petition route filing deadline matches up with candidates going through the convention route.

Since time must be given to gather signatures, those candidates declare they are running Jan. 1 of an election year.

Traditionally, candidates don’t file until after the Legislature adjourns – early March.

The proposed changes would have all legislative candidates – no matter what route they take – filing at the first of the year or soon after.

That means sitting legislators would know who is running against them during the general session – and may be more inclined to vote one way or another on sensitive bills/issues knowing who is planning on unseating them in the coming election.

Or, if no one files against him, or no one from his party files against him, a sitting legislator may vote more freely on sensitive issues, like a tax increase.