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Utah could have runoff elections if a primary election occurs with four or more candidates and no one achieves a plurality of at least 35 percent.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, introduced SB114 seeking to resolve concerns by the Utah Republican Party about the potential of small-plurality winners caused by recent changes in Utah election law.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans praises that effort. He says if it passes in acceptable final form, the party will finally drop its legal challenges of a new system that allows candidates to get on a primary ballot by collecting signatures.
But Utah Democratic Chairman Peter Corroon says forcing another election is problematic, and suggests avoiding that by using an "instant runoff" where voters would rank their preference for candidates first, second, third, etc. Candidates would be eliminated based on those rankings until someone wins a majority.
The issue came up because of SB54, a law Bramble passed to head off the Count My Vote ballot initiative that sought to replace Utah's traditional caucus and convention system with open primaries. Bramble's compromise created a hybrid, retaining the caucus-convention system, but also allowing candidates to qualify for a primary by collecting enough signatures.
That potentially allows many candidates into a primary, and may allow someone to win with a small plurality.
Bramble said he chose 35 percent as the required minimum to win a primary because that is used in several other states. Also it applies only if more than three candidates are running. "And if you just had just three running, you would expect one to achieve at least 35 percent."
He adds, "We don't expect there will be very many runoffs," noting that the number of signatures required to qualify for a primary is generally high and difficult to gather so he doubts that many candidates will go through that effort.
He said he's trying to find a balance to resolve GOP concerns over too-small priorities and a general desire to avoid runoffs. "You don't want runoffs because you don't know who the nominee will be until the fall," possibly hurting that campaign.
Bramble's bill would alter candidate filing deadlines to adjust election schedules to allow the possibility of a runoff election.
Candidates would need to file during the first week in January, and declare whether they will try to qualify for the primary through the caucus-convention system, by collecting signature, or through both methods.
Corroon said, "I think having another election is problematic. It's hard enough to get people to show up once, let alone twice."
He favors preferential voting, where voters rank their choices, as a better way to "represent the will of the people." Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, has said she plans to introduce a bill to allow use of that system of preferential voting.