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Rolly: Senator introduces an inflammatory idea: Compromise

Published November 30, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One veteran Utah lawmaker has opened a bill file for the 2014 legislative session that he believes is a compromise solution to the polarizing fight between having a caucus-convention candidate nominating process or direct primaries.

And the source of his idea might sound peculiar for a solution to a Utah problem.

It's Estonia.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has gotten in the middle of partisan battles before, most famously concerning his compromise ideas on immigration reform and green energy development that has gotten a number of his past conservative supporters in a tizzy.

Many of his ideas come from his participation in the National Conference of State Legislatures, for which he will serve as president in 2015. And many of those ideas were spawned on NCSL-sponsored trips abroad.

He most recently was impressed with the voter participation numbers in Estonia, especially when you consider Utah's voter participation is among the worst in the United States.

Much of the success in Estonia comes from the fact that more than 90 percent of its citizens are connected to the Internet, and that country allows for online voting.

So Bramble, taking some ideas from Estonia, from other colleagues in NCSL and from his own analysis, is taking on the candidate nomination system fight.

On the one hand you have the reformers, who have sponsored a citizen initiative drive called Count My Vote that would change the current caucus-convention system to a direct primary in each political party. The Count My Vote proposal would allow on the primary ballot anyone who could get 2 percent of the last gubernatorial vote in his or her party to sign a petition of candidacy.

Their argument: The current caucus-convention system puts the decision of nominating candidates in the hands of a few and makes it too easy for extremists to control the process.

On the other hand are the supporters of the status quo, where neighbors congregate in caucuses and select delegates from their neighborhood who then vote for their candidates in the party conventions.

They say that having delegates select the candidates protects against the rich and famous getting nominations simply because they can outspend everyone else in a primary election. They have formed a Political Action Committee called Utah First to oppose Count My Vote.

Bramble's solution would increase voter participation while keeping the caucus-convention system.

His legislation contains several key elements to reach that goal:

1. Allow absentee and remote voting in the neighborhood caucuses and allow more time for people to vote on line or by mail for their delegates.

2. Allow absentee and remote voting by delegates in the convention.

3. Allow unaffiliated voters to vote in party primaries. Currently, the Republican Primary is open only to registered Republicans. Bramble says that 60 percent of the voters are unaffiliated, but 70 percent of those unaffiliated voters generally vote Republican. So the party is locking out a significant number of votes in choosing the GOP nominees.

4. Change the threshold for a candidate to win the party's nomination outright at the convention, from 60 percent of the delegate vote to 65 percent. That would increase the chances that a candidate who is popular with voters would get the chance to face primary voters instead of being defeated at a convention dominated by insiders.

Bramble says he is talking to Count My Vote advocates and other stakeholders about how his legislation could work with the initiative, should it pass.

One concern about Count My Vote that Republican State Chairman James Evans has is the provision that each party obtain 2 percent of that party's voter participation in the previous gubernatorial election.

An analysis published by Bob Bernick in UtahPolicy.com found that under that scenario a Republican would have to get 13,915 signers to qualify for the primary ballot while a Democrat would only have to get 687.

That, says Evans, is patently unfair. —