Get ready for fireworks over SB54

The Utah State Legislature is set to reconvene next week and, with it, a slew of controversial bills–from marriage and nondiscrimination to medicaid expansion and federal land lawsuits.

One such controversial issue is 2014’s SB54, otherwise known as the Count My Vote compromise.

While the initial Count My Vote ballot initiative would have completely eliminated the caucus/convention system for deciding candidates, the compromise created a hybrid–allowing parties to retain their caucus/convention system but also providing a direct-to-ballot option for primary candidates and opening up the primary ballot to all registered voters.

The compromise is already being challenged in court by the Utah State Republican Party, although it is unlikely to be successful at anything but partisan posturing.

Senator Scott Jenkins of Weber County is determined to push two bills that he believes are necessary to preserve the rights of the Republican Party to decide how candidates are chosen.

His first bill would close the Republican primary to anyone not registered as a Republican. The Democratic Party has always held open primaries, but the Republican Party requires party affiliation to participate in its primary election. Senator Jenkins wants to keep it that way.

His second bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would completely overturn SB54 and revert to the party-run caucus/convention system for deciding all candidates on the ballot.

Over 100,000 Utahns signed the petition for the Count My Vote initiative. If not for the compromise, it would have been on last November’s ballot, making it highly likely that the caucus system would have been abolished. Yet we have Republican Party Chair James Evans and Senator Jenkins telling us they know better.

Whether they are acting out of self-preservation or partisan spite, the fact remains that Utah has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country and experts agree that the lack of competitive elections is one of the biggest factors. This is not to say that with competitive elections Republicans would win or lose at any greater number, but the ideology of candidates could significantly change. Candidates will likely look more like the moderate, average Utahn–like you and me–rather than the extreme ideologues that caucuses so often support.

A new Dan Jones & Associates poll shows clear support for both the initiative and its ultimate compromise. A full 79% support either the compromise or doing away with the caucus system completely, while only 14% support reverting to the caucus/convention system with no alternative ballot options.

Clearly the people have spoken, now the question is will the legislature listen.

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.

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