Utah Republican Party asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear election appeal

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party is asking the nation’s top court to hear its challenge to how political candidates get on the ballot.

It’s the final attempt by the state’s dominant political party to undo an election law that has pitted Republican against Republican and left the party in debt.

In a petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court filed Tuesday, the Utah Republican Party asks to overturn Senate Bill 54, a compromise law passed in 2014 that allows political candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot, or go through the caucus-convention system as the party prefers.

In the petition, the Utah GOP reiterates its prior arguments that “[a] political party has a First Amendment right … to choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform.”

“Count My Vote” began as a citizen ballot initiative that turned into a compromise law in the Utah State Legislature. Then, the Utah Republican Party sued the state, arguing SB54 infringed on its First Amendment free association rights.

The party has lost repeated attempts to undo SB54 in the federal courts. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled against it earlier this year and refused a request for a rehearing. However, efforts to re-solidify “Count My Vote” at the ballot box failed this year when opponents managed to get enough signatures removed from the citizen referendum petition.

The Utah Republican Party itself has faced a “civil war” over SB54. More moderate GOP candidates have gathered signatures to secure a spot on a primary ballot, while delegates have advanced more hardline candidates through the state convention.

Despite some in the Utah GOP’s insistence that the legal battle proceed, some of the state’s biggest politicians have used signature gathering to secure a spot on the ballot. Governor Gary Herbert, U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney and Congressman John Curtis have all gathered signatures and survived primary election battles.

Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson has sought to end the litigation, only to have a faction of the party form a Constitutional Defense Committee to press forward. Big money donors stopped giving, but Entrata CEO David Bateman has funded some of the legal bills as well as the effort to remove signatures from this year’s Count My Vote initiative attempt.

In a statement on Tuesday, Don Guymon of the Utah Republican Party’s Constitutional Defense Committee said the legal bills have been paid for.

“This enables us to keep the principled fight for every Utah citizen’s First Amendment freedoms alive, so that every Utah neighborhood has a real and meaningful voice in Utah politics,” he wrote.