Bill Chipping Away at Caucus/Convention, Signature Gathering Compromise Advances

Legislation that would make candidates choose between ascending to the ballot box through either the caucus/convention system or gathering voter signatures passed out of a House committee Friday.

As part of the Count My Vote compromise that was hatched in 2015, candidates could use either or both methods, however, the House Government Operations Committee voted 7-3 to advance HB 447 Political Party Amendments, which is sponsored by Representative Marc Roberts (Republican – Salem), would remove this either/or option.

Roberts said the current process disenfranchises caucus-goers. Delegates spend a lot of time studying candidates before deciding whom to support. If a candidate who chose both ways happens to lose at convention but obtained enough signatures, they are still on the ballot. “So the thought is, well let’s just do one or the other so we can preserve that process that’s been in place for so many years where you can vet the candidates through that time period and come out with one, or if they don’t reach the threshold then that’s where you get the primary,” said Roberts.

Representative Dan McCay (Republican – Riverton), who was the House sponsor of compromise bill SB 54 Elections Amendments, said the idea of making candidates choose between the caucus-convention system and signature gathering was rejected out of the fear that “nobody would choose the caucus/convention path because the risk would be too high.”

Weber County Republican Party Chairwoman Lynda Pipkin told lawmakers that delegates from last year’s Weber County Republican Party Nominating Convention were angered by the situation. “They were angry. They were depressed. They wondered why they wasted all this time at the caucus vetting the candidates and then wasting a whole day at the convention when we had a clear convention winner, yet all three candidates were going to be on the ballot with signatures,” said Pipkin. “They were frustrated and many of them, if this continues, they don’t even want to be associated with the party or especially be delegates.”

Pipkin believes Roberts’ bill would help clear up the situation. “Why should the delegates waste their time on these people that have already gathered signatures. They’re already going to be on the primary ballot. They have no respect for the delegates,” said Pipkin. “Why should any of us waste our time organizing these caucuses and conventions and the meet the candidate events to prepare for this convention when it doesn’t even matter? Why should any of us waste our time at the convention listening to all these candidate speeches and voting when they’re going to be on the ballot anyway with or without our support?”

Pipkin has no problem with fewer candidates showing up to convention. “Some might say that it might make more candidates choose to bypass the caucus/convention [system] with the signature path. I say fine. That’s fine by me because it will make our convention shorter. It’ll make our information just focused on the candidates that do think the delegates’ voice and opinion is important. It will make our season less busy with all this busy-work that really is for nothing,” said Pipkin. “If I’m going to donate my time, I would prefer to donate my time by helping candidates who actually respect my time and efforts, respect the delegates’ times and efforts, and respect our caucus-convention system. Not someone who has chosen to bypass and disrespect our efforts.”

Representative Norm Thurston (Republican – Provo) said he felt pressure to use both the caucus/convention system and signature gathering when he ran for office. “It turned out that I ended up not needing to do both because my opponent clearly just wanted to solve this at the caucus/convention system. That was fine with me. But I felt a lot of pressure to be prepared to do a duel route. I think [Roberts] may be onto something here if we can figure out the logistics. If we can figure out how to get the timing right so that people can gather signatures or not gather signatures, we can have that go through. But at the end of the filing deadline, the last day, you come and you say I’m either signature or I’m caucus/convention,” said Thurston. “So we don’t have these pseudo conventions where we’re kind of picking people, but yet somebody who we’re talking about is going to be on the ballot anyway.”

It was also pointed out that the current filing deadlines of January for signature gathering and March for caucus/convention participants would need to be changed for the sake of compatibility.

HB 447 now heads to the full House.

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