Sen. Curt Bramble calls the “Count My Vote” initiative a “gun to the head” of Utah’s political parties.
If the CMV initiative gets on the ballot and passes in November, it would do away with the state’s caucus and convention system for nominating candidates in favor of a direct primary. Bramble says CMV backers and Utah’s political parties were unable to find a middle ground, so that’s why he’s sponsoring SB 54, which is a compromise between the two positions - and would essentially make the "Count My Vote" initiative a moot point.
“The best kind of political compromise is where both sides can claim victory,” Bramble told a packed Senate committee hearing room on Friday morning. “I crafted this bill so that both sides don’t get what they want. Under the legislation, ‘Count My Vote’ gets what they were asking for from the parties, while the parties get to keep the caucus system if they meet certain criteria.”
“Count My Vote” organizers asked the political parties to make a number of changes to the caucus system - including raising the threshold for a candidate to win the nomination at convention and allowing for people who are unable to attend the caucus meetings to still cast votes. The parties roundly rejected that request, so the initiative process moved forward.
Bramble’s bill puts those requirements on the political parties. If they fail to implement them, then the default position is an open primary for candidates.
Sen. Todd Weiler says he agrees the state needs to help find a common ground between those who want to ditch the caucuses and those who want to keep them.
“I don’t know how many signatures ‘Count My Vote’ has yet, but I’m guessing it’s tens of thousands. That tells me lots of people think the status quo is problematic.”
Weiler supports Bramble’s proposal, because he says CMV would be disastrous for the state because an open primary might lead to a candidate in an open primary winning the nomination with less than 50%.
“Utah’s system allows common people to sit down with U.S. Senators in their home to talk with them about what they’re going to do,” said caucus supporter Kelly Atkinson. “Where else does that exist in the U.S. today? If we move to a direct primary, it will interject obscene amounts of money into our system, removing the common person from the process.”
Earlier this week, the “Count My Vote” organizers held a press conference to point out that Utah’s current caucus system disenfranchises women - a notion Sen. Diedre Henderson roundly rejected.
“We do need more women in politics, but removing a grassroots system will not empower women,” she said. “I was able to run for the Utah State Senate because of experiences I gained through the caucuses. I would be devastated if these opportunities went away for other women.”
Senators expressed concern with some of the provisions in SB 54, including raising the threshold for winning the nomination at convention from 60 to 65%. Bramble said those nubmers are the compromise position that gives everyone a win and urged his colleagues to leave them as they currently exist.
“Both sides are saying ‘either do it our way, or we are not going to engage.’ It’s time for us to be statesmen and move our state forward in a way that creates compromise.”
The "Count My Vote" organization released a statement Friday morning slamming Bramble's effort as a way to circumvent the will of the people.
"Legislation that intentionally nullifies legal and proper citizen action is not respectful of the constitutional process - or the people. We have seen past instances, like the HB477 GRAMA bill, when the Legislature has passed bills directly contravening the will of the people."
The bill passed out of committee on a unanimous vote and now heads to the Senate floor.
(Editor’s note: UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb is on the board of directors for “Count My Vote”)