Utah Capitol 30

A bill to undermine the SB54 compromise by creating a convention-only path to the primary ballot is dead for the 2020 legislative session.

SB91 from Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has been stuck in the Senate Rules Committee since early February. That’s where the bill will stay for the rest of the session as Senate sources tell UtahPolicy.com “there’s not much support” for the bill.

Legislative sources tell UtahPolicy.com that the bill was discussed in the closed Republican Senate caucus, but legislators had little to no appetite to take up the legislation this year.

McCay’s proposal was the latest effort by opponents of the signature-gathering path to undermine the 2014 compromise that gave candidates an alternative route to the primary ballot outside of the traditional caucus/convention system that dominated Utah politics for decades. 

Currently, there are two paths for political parties to nominate candidates for the primary election. A political party can use the convention path so long as they also allow candidates to get signatures for a slot on the ballot. Otherwise, the only method available for a party is the signature route.

McCay’s bill created two more pathways for political parties to nominate candidates. One would allow a convention-only path, while the other is a sort of fail-safe, allowing parties to send candidates directly to the general election ballot in case they weren’t able to use any other nominating procedure.

The convention-only route is the controversial provision in the bill as it guts the agreement reached between lawmakers and the Count My Vote group to head off a potential ballot initiative that would have completely eliminated the convention system. 

McCay’s bill was facing a significant uphill battle even if it were to make it to the floor this session. Gov. Gary Herbert’s office threatened to veto the bill. It was unlikely the measure would receive enough support to secure a veto-proof ⅔ majority in both the House and Senate. Without the ⅔ supermajority, Count My Vote would likely launch a referendum effort to overturn the law at the ballot box. 

“Utah's election process is working better than ever, and the overwhelming majority of Utahns strongly support the dual path,” said CMV spokesperson Taylor Morgan. “Voters in all parties are actively participating in choosing their candidates, rather than a select few doing it for them.”

The signature-gathering route has been routinely utilized by candidates since it was implemented in the 2016 election cycle. Most notably, John Curtis finished in 5th place at the convention to pick a candidate to replace Jason Chaffetz who retired from Congress unexpectedly in 2017. However, Curtis used signatures to get on the ballot where he handily defeated convention nominee Chris Herrod.

In 2016, Gary Herbert finished in second place at the GOP convention to businessman Jonathan Johnson. Although Johnson did not get enough support to eliminate Herbert at convention, Herbert did submit enough signatures that year to eliminate that as a possibility. Herbert cruised to an easy win in the primary election.

Mitt Romney narrowly lost at the Republican convention to Mike Kennedy in 2018, but signatures guaranteed he would appear on the primary ballot. He easily defeated Kennedy to win the Republican nomination.

Sen. McCay declined to comment.