When it comes to smart politicians finding ways around the law, I have to say Utah is full of them.
But before I begin the following analysis, I declare that it is my opinion, and I could be wrong about what smart politicians may do if HB313 passes this Legislature.
I mean, who would actually do what I am going to describe below?
You, dear reader, can decide.
HB313 by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, would say if no candidate got 50 percent plus one of the primary vote, then who got the party’s nomination would be determined by the party, under its rules.
Most think the major parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – would have their delegates decide the nominee in a second convention vote.
But James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, told a House committee that perhaps they would have the delegates vote the second time via the Internet, rather than the party bear the cost of hosting another convention.
That would be interesting – since Utah has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1970 – you could have the presumptive U.S. senator picked by 4,000 GOP delegates via an electronic vote. In an election run not by the state or county clerks, but by the party itself.
Anyway, aside from that possibility, what I’m writing about today is primary packing – and how it could work under HB313.
HB313, if it became law, could allow the following rather easily:
Party leaders and delegates would NOT want their caucus/convention system bypassed as the new SB54 allows.
So the leaders and delegates could conspire – is that the right word? – to ensure that, as HB313 anticipates, no candidate in the party’s primary election gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
How would they do this?
It probably wouldn’t be that hard in practice.
Party leaders and delegates could conspire to send two candidates out of the nominating convention – thus ensuring at least a contested primary election.
Let’s say that one or two candidates – moderates who would have a hard time in the first delegate convention – decided to follow SB54’s alternative route to the primary ballot and got voter signatures to place them on the primary ballot.
Then you would have four candidates on the party primary ballot – and it would mathematically be harder to get 50 percent of the vote plus one.
But wait – we’ve got more – as the TV infomercials say.
What if the party HELPED handpicked candidates to gather the number of voter signatures needed under SB54 to get on the ballot?
You could have a party primary packing event – invite party loyalists to a huge gathering where they could all sign a candidate’s voter signature petition.
Let’s say you get two or three handpicked candidates on the primary ballot that way.
Now, as a party, you could be responsible for putting four or five candidates on the ballot.
You’ve already got the two or three moderates who outside of the party activity gathered their voter signatures.
So all of a sudden you have six or seven candidates on the primary ballot – and by packing the primary the party leaders/delegates are making it much less likely that one primary candidate can get 50 percent of the vote.
And what happens if no one gets 50 percent of the vote plus one in the primary?
Under HB313, the nomination process GOES BACK to the party bosses – probably decided by a second delegate vote, either in another convention or an electronic vote run by the party itself.
You could have a moderate candidate get 45 percent of the primary vote, with the second-place finisher being one of the delegate-chosen party favorites, with, say 30 percent of the vote.
What happens in the second delegate vote? The previously chosen delegate favorite wins and the “will” of the primary voters – even if it was not a majority “will” – is thrown asunder.
The party delegates get to pick the nominee.
And in heavily-Republican Utah, in statewide and congressional races that likely means that nominee wins the final election.
In heavily-Republican legislative districts, the more conservative candidate will probably appeal to the delegates – and so the more moderate GOP legislative candidate loses in the second delegate vote.
And we end up with a more conservative Legislature – one of the results that the original Count My Vote citizen initiative petition aimed at thwarting.
Through HB313, we are back at square one.
Or even worse, since under the old caucus/convention system we sometimes DID allow GOP primary voters to pick the party nominee.
And under primary packing we won’t even have that. After the farce of the primary election, the ultimate decision of who the party nominee is results back to the party bosses and the delegates.
Let’s wait and see what happens to HB313, which is now waiting for a vote by the whole 75-member Utah House.