The Campaign Spot

Activists Seek Drastic Overhaul of Utah Candidate Selection

How hard, or easy, should it be to get onto a major party primary ballot? And should different political parties have different standards, or should their be one uniform standard for appearing on a primary ballot?

Utah voters may soon address that question and perhaps change their laws so that Republicans will face a much, much higher threshold to qualify for their party’s ballot than Democrats. Utah uses a convention-primary system to nominate candidates for elected office. Much like with the caucus system in presidential elections, small local groups nominate delegates to their county conventions, and from there to their state conventions, where they select the party’s nominee for statewide office. The most recent and memorable example of this came in 2010, when Mike Lee beat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett at the 2010 GOP convention

The proposal is the “Count My Vote citizen initiative petition“, and it bases the threshold of getting on a party’s primary ballot on the number of registered party members living within the office’s geographic area. But because the state has a whole lot more Republicans than Democrats, aspiring Republican candidates would have to collect a lot more signatures than their Democratic counterparts. As Bob Bernick summarizes:

If you were a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, you would need to gather 2 percent of 659,798 registered Republicans, or 13,195 GOP voter signatures on your candidacy petition. Any Republican running for the U.S. Senate would have to reach that threshold, or his name wouldn’t be on the GOP primary ballot for that race.

But if you were a Democrat running for the same office, you would only have to gather 2 percent of 140,789 (today) registered Democrats in Utah, or 2,815 Democratic signatures.

CMV backers contend current system “authorizes a handful of party insiders to heavily restrict candidates’ access to the ballot and prevent the broader public from even considering most candidacies for public office.”

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