Leaders of the Count My Vote ballot initiative appeared with legislative leaders at a rare Sunday news conference to announce a compromise on the effort to replace Utah’s caucus-convention system for nominating political candidates.
The deal preserves the caucus system, but it also allows candidates to get on a primary election ballot by gathering voter signatures on a petition – from one thousand for a legislative seat to 28-thousand for a statewide office such as governor.
Republican State Senator Curt Bramble, who sponsored a bill that would have undercut the initiative, told reporters they’d been talking about a compromise for months.
“As legislators, we asked ourselves, ‘What is the problem we’re trying to solve," Bramble told the news conference. "It’s greater citizen participation in the process. And so we embarked on a path to bring forward a principled compromise. Now it’s not been necessarily easy. It’s taken a great effort on behalf of the organizers, the principals of Count My Vote as well as the legislature to stay in the room.”
Last-minute disagreements scuttled a planned news conference to announce the deal on Saturday, but by Sunday legislative leaders said a revised version of Senate Bill 54 will be ready for a committee hearing on Monday morning.
Count My Vote Chair Rich McKeown admitted some of the volunteers and contributors who backed the initiative campaign are disappointed in the compromise, but he urged them to take a closer look.
“Once people get acclimated to this," McKeown said, "when they assimilate what’s in the bill, when they recognize that it includes openness in the process, that it includes a direct primary, while retaining all the vestiges of the caucus system, there’s a lot for everybody to appreciate.”
The deal also requires the Republican party to open its primary elections to unaffiliated voters. That’s one of the issues that bothers Republican State Party Chair James Evans, who says the state shouldn’t be telling political parties how to choose their candidates.
Evans told KUER, “We do not fully support the compromise, the details of the compromise, but we are very supportive of our elected officials because we recognize they’re trying to make the best of a difficult situation.”
Organizers of Count My Vote say they’ll suspend the campaign to put their initiative on the ballot as soon as the legislature passes SB 54 and the governor signs it.