Gather signatures or go through a party convention? New Utah bill would force potential candidates to choose their path to election.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Phill Wright speaks about HB68 during a House Government Operations Standing Committee meeting at the Utah Capitol Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

Legislative opponents to current election law that allows a candidate to both gather signatures and go through a party convention to get on the primary ballot have come up with a new line of attack.

HB68 would authorize political parties to require a candidate to choose one or the other, barring a hopeful from taking both paths to the ballot.

The measure cleared the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday on a 7-3 vote.

HB68 would give political parties the option to retain the current two-pronged nomination system, or choose the new option to force candidates to choose just one path to the primary ballot.

“The intent is to not undermine either of those systems,” said Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, sponsor of the new bill. “I can’t see any downside” to the change.

He said the current system sometimes makes the caucus-convention system irrelevant, and he wants to change that.

A prominent example of that was last year’s special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s seat when he stepped down. Provo Mayor John Curtis was defeated in the Republican Convention but appeared on the primary ballot anyway because he had gathered signatures. He rather easily won that contest and went on to win the general election.

A change to ensure that winning a convention would actually qualify or disqualify people for the ballot would make them meaningful again, Fawson said.

He added that polling shows that the public does not want to lose options for candidates to qualify for the ballot, and his bill honors that — and believes it is a compromise that would be supported by the public, parties and candidates.

It comes as the Utah Republican Party is continuing lawsuits challenging current law (SB54), seeking to return to just the caucus-convention system. But the organization Count My Vote is pushing a ballot measure that would cement SB54 into place — but lower the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

Among supporters of HB68 is Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the House sponsor of the original SB54.

He said the compromise that created SB54 “is dead” because of the new initiative being pushed by Count My Vote. McCay said that violates the original agreement to plug the plug on a 2014 ballot drive to end convention nominations and use signature gathering exclusively to determine primary candidates.

Phill Wright, a former vice chairman of the Utah Republican Party who is an ardent defender of the caucus-convention system, also said he supports HB68, although reluctantly.

“I think it takes a step in the right direction. It just doesn’t go far enough,” he said.