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Leaders of the Count My Vote movement said they're prepared to go back to the public if lawmakers go back on a deal made last year that led them to shelve a ballot initiative seeking to change the way political candidates are nominated.
"We, the leaders of Count My Vote, as well as Utah voters, are looking to you to affirm the legislative integrity of last year's process," they wrote Friday in a letter to senators. "We stand ready to take our case to the public should the Legislature backtrack on its commitment."
The letter was signed by the co-chairs of the Count My Vote movement, former Gov. Mike Leavitt; Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group; and Rich McKeown, Leavitt's former chief of staff.
Last year, the Legislature passed SB54, which enables candidates to either go through the current caucus system, winning over delegates elected at neighborhood meetings and party conventions, or to try to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures from eligible voters.
Count My Vote argued that the convention system left average voters feeling disenfranchised and drove down voter turnout, and an alternate path would help with citizen engagement.
Proponents of the caucus-convention system including the Utah Republican Party, which is suing to strike down the agreement don't like the SB54 bargain. Currently several bills could alter the deal.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he doesn't want to see the deal revised.
"I think in good faith the Legislature came to the forefront and passed the bill. That's why I signed it. I think it is constitutional. I think we need to go on with business," Herbert said. "I don't think there's any need to delay anything."
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, has a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the party complete control over its nominating process and a bill that would postpone implementation of the signature-gathering alternative until 2018.
There are other bills that have not been drafted that could pertain to the primary process.
Leaders in both the House and Senate say they don't see any reason to undo the agreement with Count My Vote.
"You can't bind future legislators, but for those who did vote for it, I think most of us feel like we made a deal and we'll live up to that deal," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.
But House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he thinks an issue needs to be addressed: What happens if there are many candidates on the primary ballot and no one gets more than 50 percent?
Hughes said he doesn't want to see candidates winning the party nomination without getting a majority of the vote and doesn't think that addressing that issue harms the Count My Vote bargain.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, agrees.
"That's offensive to me. I think whoever represents the party should get a majority," Hillyard said.
One proposal for dealing with the issue would hand the decision back to the party delegates if nobody gets over 50 percent. Another would be to simply hold a run-off election to ensure a candidate wins a majority, but that would cost money.
Leaders from Count My Vote said there's no way to know if the plurality question will matter until the new nominating process has been tried.
But handing it back to the delegates should not be an option, the Count My Vote leaders said in a statement.
"Altering the system to give party delegates the final say defeats the purpose of our election reforms and violates the integrity of last year's agreement," they said.