BOUNTIFUL - The so-called Count My Vote bill, S.B. 54 continued to be debated and was making its way through the legislature as the Clipper went to press on Tuesday.
A revised version of the bill passed the Senate Monday and moved to the House of Representatives for debate. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he expects debate could be done by week’s end there. He said he expects the House to approve it and that the Senate will accept it, at the latest by early next week.
The revised bill would allow caucuses to continue, where delegates vote on those seeking to run for various political offices. It would also allow candidates to file for election, if they can secure a minimum number of votes.
“What the alternative path does is really allow the wealthy to disregard the people who get elected as delegates, and hire people like Count My Vote to put names on the ballot,” Weiler said.
“This really is a Republican vs. a Republican fight,” he said. “Now if (former governor) Mike Leavitt or Kurt Jowers (director of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute) have a run for governor, they collect 30,000 signatures and get on the ballot.”
After that, such candidates could finance a lot of TV commercials, possibly out of funds they raise, Weiler said.
“From my perspective, that’s what CMV has been all about: elitists don’t want to lower themselves to sit down and meet with people. They want to roll the dice. That’s my frustration with this the whole time,” the senator said. “A handful of wealthy people wanted a way around the caucus, and disguised this (CMV) as the will of the people.
“The legislature is elected by over one million people. CMV is not elected by anybody,” Weiler said.
“I suppose they’re trying to keep both sides happy,” said Beth Beck, a Davis County advocate for Count My Vote. “For those who wanted a direct primary, it does offer a way to have more people on the ballot.”
The latest proposal calls for a minimum of 1,000 signatures for someone wanting to run for House of Representatives, 2,000 for State Senate, and 28,000 for a federal Congressional seat.
Davis County Republican Chair Phill Wright wasn’t happy with how the effort has been handled.
“I’m confident the Utah Republican Party will take this to court,” he said saying it’s “basically to tell the government to stay out of our business.”
The party is a private entity protected under the Constitution and “its rights are being violated” by this proposal, Wright said.
An attorney who won a similar case in Idaho for that state’s Republican Party met with state party officials on Saturday.
“The real unfortunate thing is people don’t understand the caucus system,” he said. CMV has been touting the importance of an individual’s vote counting, to the point people wouldn’t even read the petition, he alleged.
“The caucus system gives the averge person so much more opportunity,” Wright said. “With a direct primary none of these candidates have a reason to come into your living room to tell you what they believe.”
They’ll spend thousands of dollars on “glitzy advertising” and, in statewide races, will ignore Southern Utah, he said.
“Primary elections are just a farce,” Beck said of the current system. “There is (often) no one to vote for. At least they are offering a way for that to happen,” have more candidates running for office.
She expressed concern at the number of petitions being requested, calling it “overwhelming.”
Beck praised the efforts of Lane Beattie, a former legislator, West Bountiful resident, and Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President.
Caucuses have largely become “far right” forums and many people don’t feel comfortable trying to run if they have to confront that, Beck said.
Republican and Democratic voices were heard via legislators discussing the issue from both parties, she said.
“The whole thing isn’t over until the fat lady sings, and that’s Gov. Herbert signing something,” Beck said.
Meanwhile, a letter from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraging members to attend local precinct meetings was read Sunday in wards throughout Davis County and Utah.
Noting that caucus meetings will be held Tuesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 20, it said “we encourage our members to participate as an exercise of their civic responsibility and privileges.”
The letter reaffirmed the church’s neutrality, saying platforms and philosophies consistent with gospel principles may be found in most political parties.
It also said the meetings are a grass roots level of political involvement and “are best served by a broad representation of Utah citizens.”
A similar letter was read in 2012, resulting in a significant increase in caucus participation, a news release from the church said.