***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
Over the past year, Count My Vote (CMV) has been ruffling feathers and raising funds in their attempt to get election reform on the ballot.
Currently, a select group of individuals, known as delegates, are chosen at various public neighborhood meetings for both the Republican and Democratic Parties. These individuals come from all walks of life, but come together to select the candidates that best represent the opinions of the respective parties (according to these delegates). Count My Vote contends that this process concentrates power and radicalizes candidates while supporters claim that the current system makes it easier for political unknowns to unseat entrenched lawmakers that may no longer be serving the will of the people.
Attempts at reform within the respective political parties failed in April of last year, with delegates voting to keep the current system. Since then, Count My Vote has been actively working to collect the necessary amount of signatures to put the CMV petition directly on the ballot this November.
Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo) appears to have made a power play to be the chief peacemaker in the CMV vs. traditional system debate with SB 54 – Election Amendments.
The bill itself does several things, but three major reforms stick out in the bill: Upping the minimum percentage of delegate votes a candidate must receive within their political convention in order to avoid a primary, allows for delegates to be elected and then subsequently vote remotely, and lets unaffiliated voters vote in a political party’s primary election without restriction.
Starting with the last issue first. The idea of allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections is nothing new, the Democratic Party has allowed it for years – but Republicans have balked at the idea, requiring that any unaffiliated voters register as Republicans prior to voting in that party’s election. By allowing people to remain unaffiliated, there is no doubt that Republican registration numbers will shrink over time as people choose to drop the Republican title and re-register as unaffiliated voters. Though likely to cause some consternation within Bramble’s own party, this is not the most radical of moves in SB 54.
What is radical is allowing for the election of delegates to take place remotely, letting those delegates elect candidates remotely, and then upping the percentage required to “clear convention.”
It seems odd, in an age where Republicans often worry of voter fraud, that they appear to have no problem with allowing remote selection of candidates. Unlike the respective county clerks from across the state, political parties don’t have access to the same resources to ensure that requests for absentee nominations are legitimate. It is quite possible that the system could be gamed if proper checks and balances are not put into place, fundamentally calling into question the legitimacy of any particular candidate’s nomination.
Though slightly less worrisome, concerns should also be raised about remote voting of candidates. In order to make such systems works, county and state parties will need to invest heavily in under-the-hood updates – something that may not be feasible for smaller county parties. Both the state Republican and Democratic parties have used technology, such as voting by email, to conduct theoretical “remote votes” at their respective conventions, but coordination may be impossible for those local parties with fewer resources.
The issue of increasing the percentage of delegate votes necessary to clear convention would be a minor victory for CMV, as it would increase the odds of candidates appearing on the primary ballot come November – though it would still fall well short of CMV’s mission to have direct primaries from the start.
Indeed, CMV is none too happy about the proposed legislation. Executive Director of CMV, Lindsay Zizumbo, said in a press release last Friday that SB 54 “deliberately stand[s] in the way of citizens who have legally won the right to vote and enact a law,” noting that the “legislation that intentionally nullifies legal and proper citizen action is not respectful of the constitutional process – or the people.” Zizumbo would close by saying that the “inherent conflict makes it all the more imperative that officeholders avoid any appearance of choosing self-preservation over respect for the process and the voters.”
CMV’s response makes clear that Bramble did not consult them during his peacekeeping mission or, if he did, they were not satisfied with his conclusions.
The feelings towards this bill largely depend on where one stands on CMV, however it is troubling that the legislature is attempting to interfere with any initiative process. In a year where lawmakers are holding back on gay rights and religious freedom issues pending future events, it seems disingenuous to act directly against this particular action as well. It would not be the first time that the state has made the petition process more difficult, and, every time they do so, it erodes the ability for the citizenry to act; and it is for this reason that the bill will receive a low lemon score.
As of Friday, the bill has received unanimous, favorable recommendation from the Senate Business and Labor Committee.
To contact Senator Bramble, click here or call 801-226-3663.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker