- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A group that has worked to overhaul Utah’s system for nominating political candidates is gathering a team of lawyers in case the changes are challenged in court.

Count My Vote, an organization backed by several prominent Republicans in the state, struck a deal with lawmakers earlier this year that it says will encourage more participation in elections.

The new law, scheduled to take effect next year, allows candidates to bypass Utah’s caucus and convention system. But it has rankled the system’s defenders, including many in the GOP, the state’s dominant political party.

At the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention last month, delegates adopted a resolution to support party officials if they decide to challenge the law in court. James Evans, chairman of the state Republicans, has declined to say whether they will sue to block the law.

Count My Vote Chairman Rich McKeown said his group also wants to be ready if the matter ends up in court.

“We’re not looking for a fight or anything else. We’re just saying we want to be prepared,” McKeown told the Deseret News (https://bit.ly/1uZzfLu). “Our effort is to promote, protect and preserve the solution we were able to arrive at.”

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 new law allows candidates who gather enough signatures to instead directly compete in a primary for the party’s nomination.

It was a compromise legislators reached with Count My Vote, which was gathering signatures for an initiative petition that would have let voters decide to abandon the caucus system.

Count My vote has argued the caucus system, which requires the attendance of meetings, is difficult to participate in and results in extremist candidates.

When Gov. Gary Herbert signed the compromise, Count My Vote agreed to abandon its petition.

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

Evans said the Utah Republican Party is weighing multiple tactics, including legal and legislative options, to defend what party leaders believe is a constitutional right to select their nominees.

One option, Evans said, might be a push to amend the state constitution to protect political parties’ rights.

Sen. Curt Bramble, a Provo Republican who orchestrated the deal with Count My Vote, defends the compromise.

“The ballot is the people’s ballot, not the party’s ballot,” Bramble said. “Parties have the right to nominate the candidates of their choice, but they don’t have an inherent right to put their candidate directly on the ballot.”

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Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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