Utah GOP claims “Count My Vote” compromise law could keep them off the 2016 ballot

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Republican Party claims that if it is forced to implement some of the changes required by a compromise bill on "Count My Vote," it could kick the state's dominant political party off the 2016 ballot.

"If this isn't done properly, there's a very good chance the Utah Republican Party will not qualify for the ballot in 2016," said Clair Ellis, a member of the Utah GOP's constitutional bylaws committee told lawmakers at a committee hearing Tuesday morning.

The hearing was over House Bill 281, which sought to delay implementation of Senate Bill 54, the so-called "Count My Vote" compromise bill. The Utah GOP is suing over SB54, which provides an alternative path for candidates to get on the primary ballot if they gather enough signatures, skipping the caucus/convention system.

It's a path that got new scrutiny within the past day, when rumors began circulating that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. was being courted for a challenge to Sen. Mike Lee.

"I didn't like the agreement," HB281 sponsor, Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, told the committee.

But he insisted his bill was not meant to dismantle SB54. Instead, it would delay it while the Utah GOP's lawsuit made its way through the courts. Opponents of Cox's bill said it would impact the 2016 election.

"The compromise was between the legislature and Count My Vote," Utah GOP chairman James Evans told the committee.

Either way, he suggested, the Republican Party would have likely sued.

Democrats on the committee were skeptical about whether the Utah GOP was actually complying with SB54 -- which is now law. Evans insisted they were attempting to, but it takes more time than allowed by the law.

Mark Thomas, the state elections director, told the committee the Utah Republican Party had talked to them about litigation over SB54, but not really any technical questions about implementing it. Thomas acknowledged that political parties would need to make bylaws changes, but he testified that he believed they could be implemented.

Still, many on the committee complained they did not like the law itself.

"This did not feel like a compromise," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. "This felt like a gun to the head."

But when it came down to a vote, HB281 failed on a 6-3 vote.

"There is one party that appears to be unwilling and unable to make changes," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City.

Kirk Jowers, a co-founder of Count My Vote, told FOX 13 he did not believe the Utah GOP's threat of not being able to make the ballot in 2016 because they are unable to comply. He pointed out that it took the Utah Democratic Party five minutes to comply in an email sent to the state elections office.

Jowers said he believed lawmakers would honor the agreement that allowed SB54 to happen. There is a similar bill seeking to replace it making its way through the Senate. Jowers said that if lawmakers did break the deal that was brokered, he predicted Count My Vote would return as a signature ballot drive.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who helped broker the compromise between lawmakers and Count My Vote, told reporters on Tuesday that he believed Republicans would still be on the ballot in Utah in 2016.

"Republicans would still file as Republicans and still be on the ballot," Sen. Bramble said. "There’s a difference of opinion between the Republican party and the folks that actually have the responsibility for administering our election laws."

The Utah GOP's lawsuit over Count My Vote has a hearing in April in federal court. In a scheduling order recently filed in court and obtained by FOX 13, the likelihood of a settlement was listed as "fair."

Read the court filing here:

8 comments

  • Mike Ridgway

    Waa. Waa. Except it’s all so untrue. I have as much experience with getting Bylaws changes through the Utah Republican Party convention as anyone alive. And it’s not rocket science. The brain trust of seven drafts the proposal, the chair stands up and says, hey, everybody, we have to adopt these changes — you know — the law. And 97 percent rubber stamp the chair’s request (though he isn’t supposed to be debating) because that’s what delegates do — whatever they’re told. James Evans is so dishonest in claiming that there is any risk that they won’t make the changes whatsoever. And even if they don’t, who cares?? Will anyone have any difficulty that Mia Love, and Gary Herbert are Republicans in 2015. So much subterfuge. So little honesty. So much like Utah.

    • Mike Ridgway

      Typo correction: Will anyone have any difficulty remembering that Mia Love, and Gary Herbert are Republicans in 2016? So much subterfuge. So little honesty. So much like Utah.

      • Mike Ridgway

        Clair Ellis. Cache County’s gift to Utah. That someone so disingenuous has never failed to win election in the Cache County Republican conventions for more than 20 years now should tell any honest seeker after the truth everything that one would need to know about the supposed claim of the superior wisdom of delegates in comparison to the average riff-raff Utah voter. Two decades of watching him deceive delegates into letting him and his buddies keep all of the power, and then assassinating the reputations of those who are onto him and his band has left very deep PTSD scars. But for as long as he is alive, Clair will be the party bosses’ go to guy. Sad. True. Unfixable.

  • TruthSeeker

    Let me preface my remarks by saying I am a died in the wool Conservative. If the Utah GOP feels they may be disadvantaged by allowing all people to vote, they are wrong, they simply need to supply a candidate who people will vote for. Many GOP elected officials don’t even follow the Republican Party Platform after they are elected. Once burned, twice shy.

  • Matt

    What I do know is that the caucus system needs to stay in place. There are those attempting to take a strong hold in Utah (Mike Leavitt, etc.) that have dumped $$$$ into the fight to eliminate the caucus system. I learned of the importance of the system while serving as a GOP State Delegate. I also learned of the corruption on both sides of the political fence in Utah. One thing for sure, regardless of the caucus system staying or going, the liars came out of the woodwork in the GOP and are still in power. That’s why I am now an Independent. There are more centrists in this state than true conservatives.

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