State GOP leaders are moving to ensure that the Weber County Republican Party does not act on bylaws that would punish candidates gathering signatures to get on the ballot, instead of using the traditional caucus-convention system.
State GOP Chairman Rob Anderson says if the county took action against signature-gathering candidates, it could — ironically — jeopardize every Utah Republican candidate’s ability to use the caucus-convention path to the ballot.
Anderson doesn’t believe the problem will get to that point.
“When bylaws disagree with state law, it is our responsibility as the state party to notify county parties, and we will do so,” Anderson said Friday, adding he will seek corrections to them.
A new election law, called SB54, requires that parties allow candidates to qualify for the ballot by collecting signatures.
If parties also want to allow the caucus-convention path to the ballot, they must meet requirements as a “qualified political party” and agree to allow candidates to get on the ballot through either method, or both.
The state GOP filed papers this week to be a qualified political party for the 2018 elections, and allow both methods.
But Anderson and Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, say bylaws adopted last spring by the Weber County Republican Party would violate requirements of such “qualified” parties.
The Weber GOP bylaws now prohibit candidates who seek to use both methods from appearing on the convention ballot. They also allow only those who use just the convention path to speak at the party convention, or buy booths there.
Thomas said his office has received several calls about whether such provisions of the Weber GOP bylaws comply with state law — he says they do not — and what he office plans to do about it.
He said state GOP leaders told him that their state rules say that if any part of county bylaws do not comply with state code, the state law prevails. Thomas said that would seem to solve the problem, as long as the party takes no action to hurt candidates who collect signatures.
“We’ve asked all the counties to send us their bylaws and constitutions,” Anderson said, so that state GOP leaders can look for any problems to avoid violating state law — and the possibility of losing its right to qualify candidates through the caucus-convention system.
Weber County Republican Party Chairwoman Lynda Pipkin did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
The Utah Republican Party is challenging SB54 in the courts — so far unsuccessfully — and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard oral arguments on the case last month. The party has claimed the law is an unconstitutional infringement on how it chooses nominees, but lost that argument in lower court decisions.
SB54 was a compromise enacted by the Legislature in 2014 to stop the Count My Vote ballot initiative, which sought to replace the caucus-convention system with a direct primary. That group says conventions give too much power to party extremists and a few delegates, while excluding most voters in the selection of nominees.
Because of several attempts by Republicans to weaken or remove the compromise SB54, Count My Vote recently relaunched its petition drive and hopes to have its initiative on the 2018 ballot.