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(Tribune File Photo) The Count My Vote initiative would change Utah's nominating system to choose candidates through direct primary elections.A bill that would have ended the initiative fell apart Saturday.
Deal to end Count My Vote initiative collapses
Negotiations resume » Bargain struck Friday would have kept caucuses, but also allowed candidates to get on the primary ballot with petition signatures.
First Published Feb 28 2014 01:50 pm • Last Updated Mar 03 2014 02:32 pm

A breakthrough in negotiations that would have led to the end of the Count My Vote initiative apparently fell apart late Friday, prompting the group to scuttle a Saturday morning news conference as the sides went back to the negotiating table.

The deal, which was agreed to Friday afternoon, would have changed Utah’s nominating system to ensure future candidates for office could get gather signatures to get on the primary ballot without having to go through the parties’ caucuses and conventions.

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As a result, Count My Vote, which had spent more than $1 million gathering 100,000-plus signatures on a voter initiative aimed at supplanting the caucus-convention system with direct primaries, would have been abandoned once the bill was signed by the governor.

The group notified supporters and volunteers Friday night in a conference call of its plans to suspend its initiative effort, and the deal was to be announced a news conference with the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, at the Capitol Saturday morning.

That press conference was cancelled overnight, but the deal isn’t dead, said Ric Cantrell, Senate chief of staff.

"It’s a big issue and there are some details to work through," Cantrell said.

On Friday, Bramble wouldn’t confirm a deal, but acknowledged progress had been made.

"There have been substantive discussions between members of the Legislature and Count My Vote and we’re hopeful a resolution can be reached that will bring some positive reforms to the electoral process," Bramble said.

The bill, SB54 is scheduled to go before a House committee Monday morning.

But late Friday, the deal crumbled, although the reasons for the breakdown were still unclear Saturday morning.

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Under the framework for SB54 that had been agreed to, political parties would have kept their existing caucus system — where delegates chosen at neighborhood caucuses typically choose nominees at the party conventions — but would also have been required to accept the alternative path to the primary ballot.

According to sources familiar with the deal, in order to be recognized as a "qualified political party," a party would have to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in its primaries, allow absentee voting for delegates at the party convention, and accept an alternative path to the ballot.

A candidate who chooses not to go through the party-convention gantlet could gather a number of signatures from registered voters and advance to the primary ballot.

Under the proposed framework, a candidate running for statewide office would need to collect signatures from 28,000 voters to advance to the primary ballot.

A quarter of that number would be needed to run for one of the four congressional districts. State senate candidates would need to gather 2,000 signatures and House candidates would need half that number.

The signatures could come from any registered voter, regardless of party.

Candidates could begin collecting signatures on Jan. 1 of the election year and would be required to file the same campaign finance disclosure reports as other candidates.

Count My Vote began gathering signatures last September, arguing that the caucus-convention system excludes people who can’t attend the caucuses, under-represents women, and yields candidates who are outside the mainstream.

They recommended having candidates square off in direct primaries for the party nomination.

The original version of Bramble’s SB54 would have incorporated direct primaries, but also would have given parties a broad avenue to circumvent the primary process — essentially nullifying the initiative in the process — if they complied with certain requirements regarding absentee voting and the support a nominee would need to avoid a primary.

Count My Vote had publicly denounced Bramble’s bill, suggesting it is a cynical attempt to suppress the ability of voters to make their voice heard through a ballot initiative.

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