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Utah GOP leaders debate Count My Vote law

Utah GOP leaders debate Count My Vote law (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) A long-time debate over the Utah election process took to the airwaves on June 16. Count My Vote founder Kirk Jowers, and State Chairman for the Republican Party James Evans, debated the merits of the party's nomination process and how it is affecting the current election cycle. The University of Utah's KUER facilitated and moderated the debate.

Count My Vote was passed as a solution to engage voters in Utah, where voter participation has dropped steadily since 1998. The law itself allows candidates to bypass state conventions and gain access to primary ballots by collecting signatures.

The Utah Republican Party brought a suit against the law, but lost in several federal district court rulings. Some who oppose the law including Evans said they will continue to fight the attorney general and the state lieutenant governor's office.

Evans insisted the party would be best left to its own devices, using caucuses and conventions.

"Under the caucus-convention system, anyone can become a delegate; anyone can become a party leader," Evans said. "It's an open process by which candidates are vetted."

Jowers said the caucus has its merit but is archaic on its own, recalling the time before Count My Vote was instituted.

"We were the only state that had one limited path to the ballot so what Utah did is it updated itself," Jowers said. "It became a little more modern, a little more participatory."

This lends itself to candidates like Gov. Gary Herbert. Despite his high voter approval ratings, Herbert failed to secure the nomination for his re-election. Critics of the nomination process said this is more proof that the system is flawed. Because of the Count My Vote law, Herbert was able to use signatures to stay in the primary race for governor. Jonathan Johnson, the Republican challenger in the gubernatorial race, said he will repeal the law if elected.

According to the Count My Vote website, the law opens primary elections to the 665,000 unaffiliated voters in Utah. But Evans argued that a small group of people decide who gets funded a powerful tool when getting signatures. Evans said this means voters don't have the opportunity to hear from less well-financed candidates.

"Your vote doesn't count if you don't know who the other candidates are," he said.

Unless an appellate judge takes up the case and sides with the Utah GOP, Count My Vote stands.

"It's effective and upheld by federal and state courts, and we will have primaries and more participation going forward," Jowers said. "A new day in Utah is here."

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