A substitute to what was originally a bill designed to counter the Count My Vote initiative was unanimously passed out of the House Government Operations Committee with a favorable recommendation Monday morning.
The changes made to SB 54, sponsored by Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo), are the result of several weeks of negotiations between the legislature and Count My Vote which culminated in a press conference held Sunday to announce Count My Vote would suspend its petition gathering activities once the revised SB 54 were to be signed by the governor.
Under the bill, Utah’s caucus/convention system would remain intact. However, changes are coming to the process.
People who are unaffiliated would be free to vote in any political party’s primary under the new law. Currently, in order to vote in a Republican primary, an individual has to be registered as a Republican prior to voting; the GOP does, however, allow people to change their affiliation at the polls. Democrats have no such requirement, allowing anyone to vote in their primary system.
In a press conference held Sunday, Count My Vote praised this aspect of SB 54, noting that their petition does not currently provide this additional electoral right.
“What this bill represents is a two-pronged approach to our electoral process. It’s probably one of the most important propositions that this legislature will deal with this session,” Bramble said.
Blake Cozzens, chair of the Iron County Republican Party noted during the committee hearing that he feels that scrapping the caucus/convention system would give wealthy candidates an unfair advantage over others who wish to run for office. “Neither this body nor Count My Vote has the right to tell a political party how they do internal nomination process.”
Chris Herrod, a Republican and former member of the House, also feels that the bill interferes with the process. “I would ask that you err on the side of the right to free association, because that is the civil rights debate of this decade. It’s the first amendment, whether it’s political rights or religious rights, and by a positive vote for this you are basically saying that you believe it is government’s role to interfere with party business.”
Fred Cox, another former member of the Utah House, had misgivings about the original bill. “There were five lines that I did not like in the previous version. They are not in this version. We will see how well it works, if it allows the doctors and the firefighters and the mothers to participate like we would like. Obviously, that increases participation.” In the end, Cox is still opposed to the bill because he feels it overreaches.
The legislature has eight days to pass the legislation. As it has been amended in the House, it will have to be heard in the Senate at least one more time. However it should be smooth sailing for SB 54, as the House GOP Caucus has expressed solid support for the legislation and the Senate too appears to be on board. Governor Herbert did threaten to veto SB 54, stating that the motivation behind the bill was to usurp the people, however this was prior to Count My Vote signing on to the revised bill.