Republican fallout from the Legislature’s compromise with the Count My Vote advocates to create a hybrid nominating system for candidates was immediate and fierce, as evidenced at the GOP neighborhood caucuses recently.
Some party zealots, particularly the true believers concentrated in Utah County, contacted lawmakers right after the conclusion of the legislative session earlier this month, demanding they repeal the compromise bill next year.
Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, told attendees at a neighborhood caucus in his district that discussions had already taken place in the House to let the compromise go through, then repeal it at a later date.
He told the caucus he was uncomfortable with the strategy and believed it was sneaky. He said that is why he voted against the compromise bill.
After I heard about that accusation, I checked with numerous sources who would have intimate knowledge of House Republican Caucus discussions and have concluded that while some individuals may harbor that fantasy, it won’t happen.
"Politically, that would be the dumbest thing we could possibly do," one Republican House member told me. "Could you imagine the fallout from the public if we passed the compromise to stop the Count My Vote initiative petition then repealed it the next year? They (Count My Vote) would come back with another petition with a vengence and they would be in no mood to compromise."
The Count My Vote petition, which already had more than 100,000 signatures, sought a ballot initiative that would have replaced the caucus/convention system with direct primaries. Candidates would qualify for the primary ballot by getting a required number of signatures.
Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, provides two alternate paths to a primary election ballot for prospective candidates. They can go through the traditional caucus/convention system or they can sidestep that process by gathering enough signatures (28,000 for a statewide race, 7,000 for a congressional race, 2,000 for a state senate race and 1,000 for a state house race) which would put them directly on the primary ballot.
Party insiders wanted a higher number of required signatures in the bill while the Count My Vote advocates wanted a lower number, Bramble said. He predicted legislative candidates, particularly incumbents, will take both paths simultaneously so they can still get on the ballot if they lose the delegate vote in convention.
"But I think House candidates are going to find that getting 1,000 signatures in their House district will be more daunting than they realize," he said.
The rumors about a legislative repeal of SB54 once the Count My Vote petition gatherers go away probably stemmed from public comments made by Bramble and others that the law will need to be tweaked next year, particularly on the issue of the number of candidates who could end up on a primary ballot.
If the convention delegates send two candidates to the primary ballot and a number of others qualify for the ballot through the petition process, one race could have so many contenders that the winner could prevail with a paltry percentage of the vote.
"We want to find a way to prevent the primary elections from being so diluted that someone who really isn’t favored by most of the voters ends up winning," said Bramble. He said the Count My Vote advocates agree that some tweaking must take place.
One idea is to have two primaries. The top two vote getters in the first primary would have a run-off. But that would be quite expensive, Bramble said.
He is leaning toward the Iowa model. If no candidate gets more than 35 percent of the vote in the primary, it would go back to the party, which would then pick a candidate in the convention.
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