This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After months of fighting it, the head of the Utah Republican Party conceded Tuesday that the state's largest political body needs to move toward complying with a state law designed to give candidates a way to win the party's nomination without going through the existing convention process.

"It doesn't mean we have to accept [the new law] or we have to approve it was done, but we have a responsibility as a governing body and the delegates have a responsibility to make sure we can be prepared for 2016 and it's my responsibility to make sure we can get to that point," state party Chairman James Evans said Tuesday.

If the party failed to comply with the law — Evans had previously said complying was impossible — there was the possibility that the state's dominant political party wouldn't have candidates on the 2016 ballot.

Evans' concession comes after months of fighting the law, SB54, which was enacted by the Legislature in 2014 and allows candidates who gather enough petition signatures to get a spot on the primary ballot without having to go through the party conventions.

It was part of a compromise with Count My Vote, a group of prominent Utahns who argued the convention system disenfranchised broad segments of Utahns and produced candidates who were outside the mainstream.

Evans said he believes the party needs to continue the fight in court, although a survey by the party sent earlier this month to 60,000 Republicans — and returned by 3,000 so far — shows the rank-and-file members of the GOP almost evenly split on the question, 48 percent to 44 percent.

Evans plans to present the survey results to the party's governing State Central Committee at an emergency meeting May 30 and hopes to adopt the necessary changes at a following meeting June 27.

"This doesn't mean that it ends here," Evans said during a meeting of the party's Executive Committee on Tuesday. "We're just trying to have things in place so we can have a successful 2016."

Taylor Morgan, executive director of Count My Vote, praised the Utah Republican Party's efforts to take the temperature of average Republicans.

"We applaud the Utah Republican Party's effort to gather input from a broader sample of Utah Republicans," Morgan said. "We hope this indicates that party leaders will pursue a more positive, constructive approach to complying with SB54's important election reforms."

While the self-selecting survey is not statistically valid, clear trends emerged and several of the ideas floated by party leaders aimed at restoring the party's control over the nominating process were soundly rejected.

For example, the party faithful and elected leaders opposed charging candidates a fee to run for office, rejected a proposal to have the party endorse candidates in the GOP primary, and overwhelmingly disliked a proposal to refuse membership to petition candidates who won't consent to an interview by party officials — effectively denying those candidates spots on the ballot.

Not everyone was pleased with the results.

Former state Rep. Chris Herrod had proposed the idea of requiring candidates to go through the caucus-convention process or lose their party membership. He said the judge in the party's federal lawsuit challenging SB54 has said controlling membership is the only tool the party has to control who goes on the ballot, and failing to set membership requirements for candidates severely weakens the party's case.

"I don't believe that most people understand that by not having that, we're going to lose the court case," Herrod said. "If the Republican Party changes all its rules to comply with SB54, we will lose the lawsuit."

Evans said that the idea could still be debated at the State Central Committee meeting later this month.

The rank-and-file did support continuing to allow only Republicans to vote in GOP primaries — closing them to Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

That would require either asking the Legislature to change SB54 or convincing a federal judge that forcing the parties to open its primaries is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer indicated during a recent court hearing he might be inclined to do just that, suggesting forcing the parties to open their primaries is "forced association" with people the party would rather exclude.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke