- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Utah Republican Party filed a lawsuit Monday against the state’s new rule that allows candidates to bypass the caucus and convention system- a legal challenge to a measure approved by the majority of the state GOP.

The measure was a compromise the Republican-dominated legislature reached with Count My Vote, which was gathering signatures for an initiative petition that would have let voters decide to abandon the caucus system. The initiative was backed by several high-profile Republicans including former Gov. Mike Leavitt and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, signed it into law.

The law, scheduled to take effect next year, preserves Utah’s caucus-convention system but allows candidates to participate in primary elections as an alternative path if they gather enough signatures. Utah’s current, relatively unique system allows candidates to avoid a primary election if they win their party’s nominations with 60 percent of delegate votes.

The Utah Republican Party filed its long-awaited legal challenge in federal court arguing that the U.S. Constitution ensures political parties the right to choose how it selects its candidates.

GOP chairman James Evans said the lawsuit will bring clarity for everyone about whether the law is legal.

“We don’t think the government can reach in and tell us how to select our nominees. The legislature believes that they can,” Evans said. “So, the court is going to establish where those boundaries are.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he will defend the law despite his past personal support of the caucus and convention system. He recused himself from any conversations within the state party about a possible lawsuit.

“One of the most important ways to rebuild trust of the people in our office is to assure them that the Attorney General will defend the laws they pass regardless of my own personal opinions,” Reyes said in a statement. “Leadership is honoring your duty, even at times over your own feelings.”

The new system would give Utah a dual-track for nominating candidates, similar to the process in Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico.

Rich McKeown, one of three co-chairs of Count My Vote, said he’s confident the measure will withstand the legal challenge. Count My vote has argued the caucus system, which requires the attendance of meetings, is difficult to participate in and results in extremist candidates.

He said the Utah GOP is trying to protect a small group of people who are used to control the outcome of elections.

“The Republican party has decided to take on a minority view,” McKeown said. “They are circumventing what is clearly the will of the people.”

McKeown called on the state legislature to now stand back and allow the lawsuit to play out. At least one state senator has declared his intention to introduce legislation that would further muddy the waters and allow each party to set its own rules for selecting candidates.

The lawsuit is expected to cost $50,000-$100,000, Evans said. County Republican parties across the state will chip in to cover the cost, he said.

James Humphreys, spokesman for Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, a group that opposes the new rule, applauded the GOP for filing the lawsuit. He said the new system was pushed through by politicians hoping to be able to campaign just to large audiences with sound bites rather than face tough questions from small groups, said

“It guts the voice of individuals in the campaign process,” Humphreys said.

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