The organizers behind Count My Vote say they're encouraged the SB54 compromise worked beautifully in the recent GOP 3rd CD primary election. But, the ongoing effort to undo that agreement may push them to take the issue of eliminating the caucus system directly to the people.
UtahPolicy.com previously reported that Count My Vote was readying to refile their petition initiative to do away with the caucus/delegate/convention route to the ballot, leaving only a direct primary. Rich McKeown says the constant effort to do away with the legislative compromise has changed the dynamic.
"It has been an absolute struggle," said McKeown. "We have given some thought about taking this to the people. It never went to the people. It was a compromise with the legislature, so that's the consideration we have. We're trying to assess the landscape and trying to determine whether to move forward."
McKeown was a guest on the Beg to Differ podcast with Bryan Schott and Mike Winder. He says it's getting harder to ignore the continual attacks on the SB54 compromise coming from the Republican-controlled legislature and Republican Party.
"The continual attacks by the party, the continued effort at litigation, the actual campaigning against candidates who had gathered signatures, the obfuscation of what the law was intended to do, have all contributed to thinking that maybe this is an issue the people should weigh in on. If you listened to Gov. Herbert at the time, he said he wished he had vetoed it and put it on the ballot. Then, it would have then been the voice of the people instead of this continuing wrangling we have."
The SB54 compromise was in effect for the first time during the 2016 election cycle. That year, Gov. Gary Herbert gathered signatures to secure a place on the primary ballot in the face of a challenge from Jonathan Johnson. Johnson won the delegate vote at the convention, but Herbert won going away in the primary.
The Utah GOP is in an ongoing legal battle against the SB54 compromise, alleging the law violates their constitutional right to choose their own candidates. The party has racked up more than $300,000 in debt because of the lawsuits. So far, the party has lost those legal challenges in both state and federal courts.
Polls show a majority of Utahns support the direct primary method for getting on the ballot.
This year, the GOP primary in the 3rd CD featured three candidates as both John Curtis, and Tanner Ainge ensured their spot by gathering signatures, while Chris Herrod was the choice of GOP delegates in the 3rd District. Curtis won the Republican nomination with 43% of the vote to Herrod's 32% and Ainge's 24%.
McKeown says the fact that Curtis was able to secure the nomination without winning a majority of the vote shouldn't bother people too much because he was close to 50%. However, he does think the plurality issue could become a problem, but having a runoff election in some instances is an easy fix.
"It seems to me that in a primary if somebody got 35%, you've got a predominance. Somewhere between there and a slightly higher number, I don't know. The fact is that we now have a mechanism for vote-by mail that can be instituted if there's a need for a runoff. I do think there's wisdom in that. I think it's an issue we could address in an initiative."
Mckeown says the caucus system in Utah is an idea that has run its course because delegates are disconnected from what voters actually want.
"You get a group of people who think they have assessed things correctly, and they have for their own purposes. But, they aren't broadly representative of the community. While I don't have any problem with those who are actively involved, I think it's wonderful that they are. I think the difficulty is that when you add broader votes, you get different kinds of votes and different priorities."