Signature Route to the Primary Ballot Proving Positive Among Many Incumbents

Vote ButtonsAs it stands today, most Republican state House members seeking re-election this year, and a huge majority of state GOP senators, are using the new signature petition-gathering route to their party’s primary election, a UtahPolicy review shows.

Thirty House Republicans have signed up with the Utah Elections Office to gather the 1,000 signatures of registered GOP voters they need to get on the June closed Republican primary.

Even more impressive, seven of nine GOP senators up for re-election this year are gathering the 2,000 signatures they need to get on the Republican Party ballot.

Candidates who are not collecting signatures can’t actually file for election until early March.

So, incumbents who will put themselves only before their party delegates in county and state conventions may not have yet declared their re-election intentions this year.

Because of the Jan. 4 signature declaration deadline, some incumbent House and Senate members who have decided to retire from the Utah Legislature announced last month they were not running again, to give potential candidates the opportunity to seek the signature route, if they desired.

Accordingly, politicos got an early indication of what offices may be open in 2016.

Thus, UtahPolicy didn’t count as non-signature gatherers the incumbents who have said they aren’t running again.

So, 30 House Republicans are gathering signatures, and at most 27 House Republicans (there could be fewer) are bypassing the petition route and will go only before their delegates, who will get to decide whether incumbents can continue in office, or whether a challenger can replace them.

Only two senators, Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, and Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, have not signed up for the signature route, and so will only face their delegates.

So far, no other Republican candidates have signed up to go the signature route for Harper’s Senate District 6 nor Henderson’s Senate District 7 – meaning if the incumbents are challenged later, they will face an intraparty challenge only in their Salt Lake or Utah county conventions, respectively.

Both Harper and Henderson are considered conservative Republicans, and thus they would likely do well with their delegates – which are likely to be more to the right of their party, as well.

But even a few long-time GOP officeholders – like Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan – have decided to at least sign up for the petition gathering route, which means they can not be eliminated by their delegates in their respective party conventions.

Hillyard is currently the longest-serving legislator, having been elected to the Utah House way back in 1980, moving to the Senate four years later.

As UtahPolicy readers know, the State Republican Party has always been opposed to SB54, the 2014 compromise law that sets up the dual-track route to the primary election for candidates.

The Utah GOP’s second federal lawsuit is now being heard in court, and Federal Court Judge David Nuffer has sent the Utah Supreme Court another part of SB54 for a ruling.

As it stands now, the Utah Elections Office will certify all qualified petition candidates to the June Republican and Democratic Party primary ballots.

Likewise, all candidates winning their nominations in their party conventions will go to the general election ballot, or to their primary ballots if no one wins the nomination outright in the convention.

UtahPolicy has talked to many House and Senate members – both those who are taking the petition gathering route, and those who have not, and are throwing all their eggs into their delegate basket.

Most of the petition route lawmakers tell UtahPolicy that they are gathering signatures out of caution: Why should they even take the remote chance of being eliminated from office by delegates – who may have a grudge against them for any reason.

They also say that uncertainty about the constitutionality of SB54 led them to take both the signature route and the delegate/convention route in case either way is struck down by the courts.

In fact, a UtahPolicy Dan Jones & Associates poll finds that nearly 50 percent of GOP delegates say they will be LESS likely to support a signature-gathering candidate in their conventions just because those candidates are bypassing a binding delegate convention vote.

So if an incumbent appeared to be a SB54 supporter, it’s best they take the petition route to blunt their delegate vote.

The UtahPolicy analysis shows that most House and Senate Republicans running for re-election this year are taking the SB54 signature course, and fewer are counting only on their Republican delegates to send them back to Capitol Hill.