Count My Vote ballot drive shifts course, will try to preserve current election law — mostly

Group drops plans to throw out party caucus-convention system as a path to the ballot for candidates.<br>

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Taylor Morgan of Count My Vote spoke at the Count My Vote public hearing at the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights. The Count My Vote ballot initiative seeks to select party nominees through a direct primary, and totally eliminate the traditional caucus-convention system, Friday, October 27, 2017.

Count My Vote initiative organizers said Wednesday that public hearings persuaded them to shift direction. They now will aim to preserve but simplify a compromise state election law that they helped create in 2014 — instead of pushing a sweeping rewrite.

Initially the group proposed this year to allow candidates to qualify for a primary election solely by collecting voter signatures. They did that to counter ongoing efforts by the Utah Republican Party to junk the new law and restore the traditional caucus-convention system that put the choice of party nominees in the hands of a few thousand delegates.

The compromise law — passed in 2014 and responsible in the recent Republican congressional special election for John Curtis emerging as a voter favorite over GOP Convention primary pick and ultraconservative Chris Herrod — allows two paths to the ballot: conventions or signatures.

“We now want to give voters all options,” said Count My Vote Executive Director Taylor Morgan. “The overwhelming public feedback we heard is that what we have now is working, so why take something away?”

He added, “We think the best way to end the divisiveness and become unified on the process is to take what we have now, refine it, make it the best it can be, and then put it before the voters.”

The Count My Vote effort is led by such people as former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Utah Jazz Owner Gail Miller and former Utah first lady Norma Matheson.

Count My Vote argued that giving convention delegates exclusive power to select party nominees shut out voters at large and resulted in extremist party insiders advancing candidates outside the political mainstream.

As the group relaunched its old initiative this year, it held a series of public hearings in advance of starting to collect the required 113,000 signatures to qualify for the 2018 election ballot. What organizers heard at the meetings made them rethink their effort.

“There was a concern that we were taking something away,” by eliminating the caucus-convention path to the ballot, Morgan said.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll recently found the same thing — voters were evenly divided on the initiative. Pollster Dan Jones said support for Count My Vote had dropped dramatically apparently out of fear that it might take away one of the current options.

“We think preserving the dual path while improving it for signature-gathering candidates is the best of both worlds,” Morgan said.

The initiative, as rewritten, would keep the basic outline of current law, yet sharply reduce the number of signatures needed for a candidate to make it onto the primary election ballot.

SB54 now requires gathering 28,000 signatures for statewide office, such as governor or U.S. senator. The new initiative instead would require signatures from 1 percent of registered party voters, about 6,500 signatures for Republicans and 1,600 for Democrats.

In another example, the 4th Congressional District now requires gathering 7,000 signatures under SB54. The new initiative would require about 1,440 for Republicans and 465 for Democrats.

SB54 requires 2,000 signatures for Utah Senate races and 1,000 for Utah House races. Count My Vote figures requirements could drop as low as perhaps 25 signatures for Democrats in some heavily GOP House districts where few Democrats are registered, and as high as 215 or so for Republicans in heavily GOP Senate districts.

Also under the initiative, If no candidate wins more than 35 percent of the vote in a primary — which is possible if races attract a large field of office seekers — a by-mail runoff election would be held between the top two finishers.

Morgan said Count My Vote filed revised paperwork on Wednesday with the office of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. He said no more public hearings are required, and as soon as the state revises its estimate on the cost of changes proposed, the group could start collecting signatures.

He expects to have the green light to start collecting signatures within days. “We’re organized and are ready to go,” he said.