By: Benjamin Ader
With a presidential election on the horizon, many state election offices and party organizations are beginning their process for electing nominees for various offices up for a vote. In Utah this will be a significant test for a new nomination process inspired by the Count My Vote (CMV) initiative. This movement was a response to the fact that Utah was one of seven states with a caucus system, but the only state that did not have any other means of getting a candidate on a ballot.
Caucuses are generally considered to have lower turnout than primary votes, and often bring a much more partisan and polarized crowd. When this happens, moderate voters who might not be as passionate or do not have the time to go to evening caucus meetings that often last hours, tend to feel left out of their party’s nomination process.
To remedy this, a group of moderate Republicans began an initiative urging the Utah State Legislature to pass a bill replacing the caucus system with a mandatory primary system. Thus, CMV began. The steady growth in popularity of CMV resulted in a reactionary movement from the more conservative side of the Utah Republican Party called Protect Our Neighborhood Elections.
In February 2014 State Senator Curt Bramble proposed SB54 to solve the dispute between these converging ideologies. This bill allowed for the continuation of the caucus system but added several new particularities such as allowing people to vote for delegates remotely by absentee ballot and allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in primary votes. However, the most important compromise of the bill is that it allows candidates to get a primary election through a write-on campaign. The threshold of signatures to get on a primary ballot for candidates running for statewide office would need 28,000, 7000 for US House, 2000 for state Senate, and 1000 for state House.
Governor Gary Herbert signed the hybrid nomination system into law in March 2014, but the law is currently facing a court challenge in the US District Court on the grounds of the law’s constitutionality. In April 2015 Judge Nuffer denied a preliminary injunction of SB54 but no further decisions have been made regarding the case.
Pending a resolution to the court challenge, this upcoming election in 2016 will be the first full test of the provisions of this new nomination system. If moderate voters in Utah are engaged enough, it is likely that there will be several candidates on a primary ballot, potentially changing significantly the dynamic of both statewide, and local elections.
On September 24, 2015 Judge Nuffer refused to consider any of the Utah Republican Party’s motions because they have missed too many deadlines.