- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A federal judge upheld part of a Utah law overhauling how political parties nominate candidates on Tuesday, but he struck down a provision that would have forced parties to allow unaffiliated voters in primary elections.

Supporters of the law said the open primary clause was designed to boost voter participation, but U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said in court documents Tuesday that it violates parties’ First Amendment right of association.

Nuffer upheld the part of the law allowing candidates to skip a system of caucus meetings and conventions in order to be chosen as a party’s nominee. Candidates can instead gather signatures and compete in primary elections. Parties don’t have to accept signatures from unaffiliated voters, so that alternate path would not be unconstitutional, the judge said.

Utah’s Republican Party sued over the 2014 law, arguing the party had a right to choose how it picks its own candidates. Utah’s Constitution Party later joined the lawsuit and made a similar argument.

Marcus Mumford, a lawyer representing the Utah Republican Party, said Tuesday that the party was pleased with the judge’s ruling and that it justified the party’s argument that the law infringed on the party’s rights.

Utah director of elections Mark Thomas said Tuesday that the ruling allows the law’s biggest changes to take effect next year.

Supporters of the law argued that the caucus and convention system, where party members attend meetings in order to pick candidates, is difficult for many to participate in and results in extremist candidates.

Defenders of the caucus system argue it allows for local scrutiny of candidates and enables those without deep pockets to run for office.

The law was a compromise between Utah GOP lawmakers and a group called Count My Vote, a group comprised mostly of well-funded Republicans who wanted to overhaul Utah’s political nominating system.

Backers of Count My Vote, including former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt, have been pushing for changes since 2010, when three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted at the GOP convention amid the rising tea party movement.

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