A move by Utah Republican Party hard-liners to disqualify candidates who gather signatures to get on the ballot may have backfired.
Because of a party bylaw change last weekend, the only people who might appear as Republicans on the ballot this year are those who actually do collect signatures — and the traditional caucus-convention system may disappear as a path to the ballot for others.
That’s according to Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who wrote the 2014 state election law, called SB54, that ultraconservative delegates in his party hate because it weakens their power by allowing signature-gatherers to bypass them.
Bramble is looking at some quick legislative fixes to remedy what he says is havoc caused by the new GOP bylaw, and said the most likely option would allow only signature-gatherers on the ballot.
Conservative members of the Republican State Central Committee voted 48-21 Saturday for a resolution to disqualify candidates who opt to qualify by collecting signatures — but allowed exceptions in some races, such as the U.S. Senate race, where Mitt Romney is collecting signatures, and the 3rd and 4th congressional districts.
Bramble said the most likely option to undo the damage would be legislation to allow the lieutenant governor to automatically convert the GOP to a status of “registered political party” — which would authorize candidates to qualify for the primary ballot only by gathering signatures.
“At the end of the day, we want the pathway where any citizen can gain access to the ballot and have that party affiliation on the ballot,” Bramble said.
Bramble said lawmakers have looked at other possibilities, but figure that almost all would end up in court.
Democrats issued a statement calling on Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to rescind the GOP’s eligibility as a qualified political party because of its bylaw change, arguing “Cox cannot pick and choose which laws he enforces, particularly where the law at issue has repeatedly been declared constitutional by every court that has reviewed it.”
Cox issued a statement Wednesday saying, “I am duty-bound to ensure that all candidates who rely on the existing law are included on the ballot, and I intend to certify candidates as such. However, assuming this issue becomes subject to litigation, there is no guarantee on potential outcomes.”
Cox added, “In light of the current circumstance, and in order to provide candidates with the certainty they need to move forward, several legislators have begun working on potential legislation to help provide clarity and ensure a fair election. While it may be difficult this late in the session to pass such legislation, my office will work with legislators as necessary.”
Bramble blasted the GOP faction that changed party bylaws.
“One of the bedrocks of being Republican is respecting the rule of law,” he said. Changing rules in ways that “intentionally and with premeditation violate that law … violates a fundamental premise of the Republican Party.”
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser also took a swipe at the GOP faction that passed the new bylaw. “There’s a country where the party rules, and that’s not a country I want to live in: China,” he joked.