Judge rules ‘Count My Vote’ compromise partially unconstitutional

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Senate Bill 54, the compromise on the so-called ‘Count my Vote’ law was under review in federal court.

Judge Nuffer ruled Tuesday that part of the law was unconstitutional but not all of it.  The ruling has both sides claiming victory.

"...It really vindicates the claims we asserted that SB54 is an unconstitutional infringement on our rights as a party," wrote Marcus Mumford and attorney for the Utah GOP.

The judge said the provision of the law that would open up primary elections is unconstitutional. The Utah GOP had sued, claiming it should not be forced to allow unaffiliated voters in its primary. Judge Nuffer agreed.

In his ruling, Judge Nuffer made clear another provision of the law is constitutional, writing: “There is no basis to find the Signature Gathering Provision Unconstitutional."

The signature gathering provision allows candidates to get on the ballot by gathering roughly 28,000 signatures from registered voters.

"We believe that this will be a way to invigorate the system, get more people involved. The entire object of 'Count my Vote' was about voter participation,” said Rich McKeown, the Executive Co-Chair for Count My Vote.

For the state, it means a new way of managing elections.

"Signature gathering is going to be a new process to the state of Utah. The Lieutenant Governor's office will be prepared to handle that, we were already anticipating before the judge’s ruling that he would rule this part constitutional."

On Jan. 4, candidates can pick up petitions to start gathering signatures.

However, James Evans Chair of the Utah Republican Party says the ruling also gave the GOP control over its membership. Meaning a candidate could not gather signatures and run as a Republican, the GOP in Utah still plans to use the caucus/convention system.

If someone tries to get on the ballot as a Republican by gathering ballots, Evans says it could lead to new litigation.

The Utah Democratic Party put out a statement about the ruling that reads in part:

"While Republicans continue to shut out independents and unaffiliated voters, we welcome them with open arms to the Utah Democratic Party. Our primary elections have always been open, and they will remain open.”