Flagged Bill: HB 313 – Primary Elections Modifications – Rep. Marc Roberts

Representative Marc Roberts (Republican - Santaquin)
Representative Marc Roberts (Republican – Santaquin)

A large portion of last year’s political movement revolved around the efforts for and against the Count My Vote initiative. After spending months gathering signatures, a compromise was hashed out in the form of SB 54. It’s sponsor, Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo), says the deal involved high level Republican leadership and those pushing Count My Vote.

Traditionally in Utah, a candidate is picked by party delegates at a convention. If a candidate fails to get 60 percent of the delegate vote, a primary election occurs. SB 54 gives a second option for candidates to get on the ballot outside of the convention/caucus system by collecting a set number of signatures. This provides options for those who want to skirt, or have been shunned by, the traditional route and potentially force a primary between more than two candidates.

In an effort to deal with this, Representative Mark Roberts (Republican – Santaquin) has sponsored HB 313 – Primary Elections Modifications. Rep. Roberts says that if a political party holds a primary and no candidate receives a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote), the decision to nominate a candidate goes to the party with which they identify.

While this seems like a simple solution to what would most likely be an expensive, dragged-out fight for a political party, the fact of the matter is that it favors a political wing that supersedes left and right—establishment. Candidates who have a closer relationship with the party elite will, by extension, have support of the party and will most likely be saved by this process if Roberts’ bill is successful.

The bill does not lay out any direct manner where these candidates could be decided, though the most likely route would be through another delegate vote between the remaining two candidates – but several possibilities exist including a quick vote for the party’s central committee or even the mandate of the party chair.

This legislation is not only bad for voter participation, but party participation as well. By giving more power to a political party’s elite, there is less hope for leadership reform when needed, less hope for overthrowing unpopular incumbents, and less of a desire for people to engage in party building.

Primary elections are expensive and exhausting, but entirely worth it. They boost voter participation and, most importantly, they show that a candidate is electable – if only by the sheer fact they won a primary election. To throw that effort to the dogs and have delegates pick a candidate in the end is a process that will embitter voters and party activists alike.

How do we solve this? Is there a way out of this problem? Yes.

Instant run-offs, also known as an alternative voting system, gives voters the option to rank candidates by preference. For example: if Jane Doe, John Smith and Derek Jeter are running for the Libertarian party’s nomination in a primary, a voter can rank them in an order of their choosing. If a candidate fails to get a majority, the votes for the lowest tier candidate are then pushed to their second choice, ensuring a majority vote for one candidate.

Roberts’ bill, while it has merit in its intentions, will only dissuade voters from participating in our elections. While it is unclear how viable Roberts’ bill is with other bills like SB 43 in the mix, it does start a conversation that needs to be had.

To contact Representative Roberts, click here or call 801-210-0155.

You can track this, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

Impact on Average Utahn 0-1-2-3-4-5
Need for Legislation 0-1-2-3-4-5
Lemon Score 0-1-2-3-4-5
Overall Grade B

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