Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox clarified how his office will enforce last year’s controversial ballot access law SB54, known as Count My Vote, by issuing a memo to candidates in the current election cycle.
The recent memo addressed legal and policy questions as well as speculation over the new law that mandated that political parties to recognize ballot initiatives of candidates seeking political office in Utah.
Specifically, the memo said The Republican Party and its candidates will have access to the ballot as long as the party maintains the standards for a qualified political party set by SB54. Cox said that in the memo, he anticipates no reason why the Utah GOP or its candidates would be barred from elections.
Count My Vote was a 2014 Utah citizens’ initiative created to replace the state’s caucus selection process for candidates for public office with a mandatory primary election. Legislatures struck a compromise with the Count My Vote proponents and passed SB54 which preserves the caucus system and allows for the new signature method.
Cox said his office would forbid the Utah GOP from excluding candidates who use the signature route from the primary ballot.
Similarly, Cox said in the memo that his office would reject attempts by parties to remove signatures of registered party members from petitions or remove registered members from party membership, specifically addressing rumors that the UTGOP would assert take action against those that support SB54 or candidate ballot measures.
Several Utah GOP candidates, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, have announced that they would use both the caucus system and the signature route to get on the primary ballot later this year.
“After an extensive review of SB54 with the Attorney General’s Office, I have determined the clear wording of the statute allows candidates, and not parties, to determine whether to gather signatures, participate in the caucus/convention system or do both,” the memo said.
Candidates began gathering signatures on Jan. 4. The memo said that more than 70 candidates, including 49 state and national legislators, have declared their intent to gather signatures.
A list of candidates seeking signatures can be found at www.elections.utah.gov.
The clarity of the memo, as the memo acknowledges, might be mitigated by the uncertainty of the lawsuits surrounding SB54 filed by the Utah GOP.
“Although judges are historically averse to removing candidates from the ballot, it is impossible to know with 100 percent certainty whether a judge could invalidate the signature path or remove the (Republican) party’s QPP status, thus eliminating the caucus/convention path,” the memo said.
Cox recommended that a candidate use both the caucus and petition route to assure maximum access to the ballot.
In the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers battle over SB54 which was a compromise with Count My Vote to preserve the traditional caucus system and add a ballot measure after Count My Vote threatened to take the issue to a petition.