SALT LAKE CITY -- Those wanting to watch the Senate's deliberations on legislation that would alter Utah's process for nominating political candidates should mark their calendars for Thursday.
On Tuesday, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, made a procedural motion to schedule the floor debate for his bill, S.B. 54, for 11 a.m. Thursday. The move is unusual, as most bills are heard in the order they are placed on the Senate schedule, but Bramble told his fellow senators he wanted all interested parties aware of when they will be able to hear the debate on the bill.
Opponents to the bill have criticized the legislation as a tactic to ignore the efforts by the Count My Vote organization, a group led up by former Utah governor Michael Leavitt to create a direct primary in the state. Count My Vote issued a statement on Friday declaring that Bramble's bill was not respectful of the constitutional process of citizen initiatives and compared it to 2011's H.B. 477 -- the bill that looked to block certain government records from public scrutiny.
"S.B. 54 is cleverly drafted to give political parties a choice," said Count My Vote's statement on Bramble's bill. "They either adopt a set of reforms outlined in the bill, or the direct primary language proposed by Count My Vote goes into effect. Count My Vote attorneys say that if S.B. 54 passes, and the reforms are adopted, then the implementation of Count My Vote is at risk, even if approved by a majority of voters."
Bramble argued that his bill was not similar to H.B. 477. He stated his bill has been talked about in the press since November 2013. He also said his bill has been available for the public to read since the beginning of February and that it was not rushed through the committee process.
The infamous GRAMA bill was rushed through the legislature in the final weeks of the session and was not available for public viewing for more than a few days.
Bramble was perplexed at Count My Vote's opposition to his bill. He said the bill gives Count My Vote more changes to Utah's election system than it was originally asking for and would increase a voter's ability to participate in the process -- which he assumes is Count My Vote's main goal.
Bramble also said that he invited Count My Vote to work with him in his legislation, but the group has declined to participate. He also pointed out that Count My Vote could have come to the committee hearing on the bill last Friday, but the organization opted to stay away and make no comment at the meeting.
Bramble's bill calls for the exact language of Count My Vote to be put into state law, but provides a trigger that political parties can pull to preserve Utah's caucus and convention system. If the parties agree to move their threshold a candidate needs to earn at a convention to avoid a primary to 65 percent, allow for absentee balloting at caucus nights, allow for a two-day nominating window for delegates and let unaffiliated voters participate in their primary election, they then can keep their system and avoid having to hold a direct primary election.
Count My Vote currently is obtaining signatures to utilize Utah's initiative process. If the group can obtain more than 100,000 signatures from 26 of Utah's 29 Senate districts, then a question will be place on this year's general election ballot asking Utah voters if they would like to enact a direct primary, eliminating the caucus and convention system.
Count My Vote argues that Utah's system does not allow for greater voter participation. The group contends that a number Utahns such as mothers, police officers, doctors, nurses, missionaries and military personnel are left out of the caucus and convention process because they often cannot attend their political party's neighborhood caucus night. If Count My Vote's initiative gained final approval, those groups would be able to participate in a direct primary.
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