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The Utah Libertarian Party has become the first official "qualified political party" under a controversial new election-reform law.
So far, the party is the only one qualified to appear on future ballots with an official roster of candidates with the party affiliation listed by their names.
The Utah Republican Party and the Constitution Party have filed a lawsuit challenging the new law, called SB54, contending that it is unconstitutional because it infringes on their ability to select their nominees as they choose. The GOP, however, said Tuesday it now plans to comply with the law.
Libertarian Party Chairman W. Andrew McCullough filed a letter with the lieutenant governor's office saying his organization intends to comply with SB54, and thereby became the state's first qualified political party under that law.
"In order to be a qualified political party, you have to agree to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in your primary," said Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
A party also must allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot either by gathering signatures, or through the old caucus-convention system.
McCullough wrote that Libertarians "will maintain our present convention system, and acknowledge that candidates may alternatively seek ballot status through petitions. For our party, we do not think that is likely." The Libertarian Party has only 8,728 registered members.
A qualified party also must allow either participation by alternate convention delegates for those who are absent, or remote voting.
Democrats have said they support SB54, and Thomas said the Democratic Party is expected to file papers needed to become a qualified party.
SB54 passed last year as a compromise to halt the Count My Vote ballot initiative that sought to replace the caucus-convention system with a direct primary, and instead created a hybrid system.
Supporters of the change contend that extremists tended to control lightly attended party caucuses, leading to candidates outside the mainstream. They also argued that the traditional system depressed voter turnout.
SB54 also requires parties to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in party primaries. That is important because 43.5 percent of all Utah voters are unaffiliated, and reformers sought to give them a greater role in determining who appears on the final general election ballot.
While Democrats allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their primaries, Republicans have not in recent years.
Utah political party affiliation
Republicans • 639,440, 45.6%
Unaffiliated • 609,111, 43.5%
Democrats • 132,317, 9.4%
Libertarians • 8,728, 0.6%
Independent American • 7,740, 0.6%
Constitution • 4,232, 0.3%
Total registered voters • 1,401,568
Source: Utah lieutenant governor's office.