Utah GOP suing state over ‘Count My Vote’ legislation

Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans, Utah Republican Party Nominating Convention, South Towne Expo Convention Center, Sandy, Utah, April 26, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – Does the Legislature have the authority to tell a state political party, or any private organization for that matter, how to select its candidates? That is a question the Utah Republican Party hopes to get definitively answered via a lawsuit against the state government.

We want the court to determine the relationship between the state and political parties,” Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said Tuesday, as reported by KSL.com. “Our point of view is the state doesn’t have the constitutional right to reach in and tell us how to select our nominees.”

Evans told media the party will likely file a lawsuit on Wednesday over Senate Bill 54, also known as the Count My Vote compromise bill.

SB 54, signed by the governor in March, was a compromise between the Legislature and Count My Vote, a group that originally sought through a ballot initiative to do away with the caucus-convention system entirely and replace it with a direct primary. Supporters of the Count My Vote initiative included former Utah Republican Govs. Michael Leavitt and Olene Walker, as well as former Utah House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara.

Under the compromise, prospective political candidates can bypass the caucus-convention system and get their names on a party’s primary ballot once they’ve obtained a certain number of supporting signatures. It also stipulates that state political parties hold open primaries so unaffiliated voters can participate. The Utah Republican Party has long held closed primaries.

The compromise was passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature in March and takes effect in January 2015.

Before the law was passed, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, stated he believed the bill violated the constitutional rights of the state party in relation to freedoms of expression, speech and association.

Evans said the lawsuit has less to do with the details of the compromise itself as it does the concept of state interference in party nominee selection.

“That was not our compromise. We had nothing to do with that. Our position has never changed. This is our brand. We’re a private organization,” Evans said, according to KSL.com.

The possibility of a lawsuit has been in the air ever since SB 54’s passage earlier this year. During the Washington County Republican Convention in April, Willie Billings, vice chair of the Utah GOP, said the party leadership was considering suing the state.

During the Utah Republican Convention later that month, a party resolution was passed that reaffirmed the party’s constitutional right of association and the freedom to choose its candidates without state interference. Evans said the state party was looking into ways to challenge the legislation, but didn’t go into detail at the time.

According to KSL.com, Evans said he had invited Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon and leaders of Count My Vote to join in the lawsuit. Neither side has done so as they appear to be happy with the compromise.

There may be some constitutional questions, but I’m a pragmatist and I think it’s good for the state,” Corroon said, as reported by KSL.com.

Billings told St. George News Friday that he sees the GOP’s lawsuit as an honorable endeavor. The Republican Party itself wants to make sure it is following the Constitution, he said.

“Everybody should be eager to find out what’s constitutionally legal,” Billings said. “We want to seek constitutional clarity on this.”

Defending the law for the state will be Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. While stopping in St. George in March to visit with Republican delegates and potential voters, he was asked about SB 54.

“The irony here is many people throughout the state know I am one of the strongest supporters of the caucus-convention system,” Reyes said at the time. “If the party sues the state, the one defending that (law) will be me.”

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Kirk Jowers, one of the leaders of the Count My Vote initiative, said he believes the state will forcefully defend the law.

We anticipate the state defending its law forcefully,” Jowers told the Salt Lake Tribune.

In addition to the lawsuit, SB 54 may face pressure from opposing legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, in the legislative session.

Jenkins will sponsor a bill that will allow political parties to choose who will appear on primary ballots. Another proposed piece of legislation would amend the Utah Constitution to allow the parties to select their candidates in anyway they see fit, minus state interference.

The two bills would effectively gut the applicable portions of SB 54.

“That dings Count My Vote pretty hard,” Jenkins said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Allie November 29, 2014 at 11:11 am

    This is the reason we get the same political hacks running for office. They are wired into a party system that has the money machine cranking out the votes. Ordinary people with common sense and a true commitment to help make this county/state/country better do not stand a chance to get elected. Until the system is opened up, term limits enacted, we will be governed by a handful of people who only have their best interests at hand.

  • Zonkerb November 29, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    And that is how the game is played

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 29, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Utah’s politicians are truly a disgrace…

    • Allie November 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      90% of politicians are a disgrace. Over 50 (>10%) of our current members of Congress have been in there for 35+ years. How many people today have been working for the same company for more than 35 years?

      • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 30, 2014 at 10:49 pm

        yea after they’ve been in more than a few years they take on a parasite mentality. Hatch is the absolute poster child for this…

        • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 30, 2014 at 10:52 pm

          The scary thing is this need breed of republican like Mike Lee may very well be worse than what’s in there already… It’s gonna get real messy in the near future…

  • Zonkerb November 29, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    If your going to sue the state you just as well sue the LDS church because they are the ones in charge

  • koolaid November 30, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Nothing like wasting more state taxpayer money on lawsuits. How much money did the Utah GOP waste protecting Amendment 3 and their poster child Swallow?

  • Dana November 30, 2014 at 5:45 am

    The LDS Party a.k.a. The Republican Party doesn’t want open primaries. Perish the thought the sheeple awaken from their coma’s and vote for someone who isn’t Quorum approved.

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