State School Board Election Process Unconstitutional…Now What?

Breck England

On Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the process by which State School Board Candidates are placed on the ballot was unconstitutional.  This ruling came after candidate Breck England’s complaint that he had been removed from the ballot by the Governor’s Nominating and Recruiting Committee unconstitutionally.  Pat Rusk, a candidate from a different district who was also removed from the ballot, joined the suit.

With Waddoups apparently agreeing with them, the big question now is what happens next.  The parties will meet with the judge on Thursday to discuss a remedy, but in the mean time here are a few possible outcomes:

The Court Places England and Rusk Back On The Ballot

The suit filed by England requested as a remedy for him to be placed back on the ballot.  On Friday, Waddoups said he did not know if the court had the ability to provide that remedy.  If Waddoups’ changes his mind, this could be the resolution.  But that begs the question: What about everyone else who was eliminated?  If the court puts England and Rusk on the ballot, shouldn’t they place all candidates back on the ballot?  Which brings us to option two:

The Court Puts All Candidates Back On The Ballot

This will be interesting to watch.  If all of the candidates that filed for election are back on the ballot, some districts will have nearly 20 candidates for State School Board.  The winner would likely receive around 15% of the vote.  It would be a little crazy!

Also because of the crap shoot nature of the current process, many candidates filed with all of their friends in the hope that just one of them would get through.  I don’t believe they all want to be on the State School Board.  There may be some withdrawals if this becomes the case.

The Court Allows November’s Election As Is, With The Order To Have  A New Process In Place By 2016

This is the “Sucks To Be You Breck England, But Thanks For Playing Option”.  The court could allow the November election to proceed with the ballot as it is already set, then give the Utah Legislature a deadline by when to change the process.

I Voted Sticker

After The Ruling, What Action Will the Legislature Take

As I see it, the Legislature has three options:

  • Partisan Elections – You know the drill, caucus/conventions/signature gathering.  The usual thing.
  • Direct, Non-Partisan Elections – Similar to mayoral, city council, and local school board elections.
  • Something Unconventional – Either a Top 2 system, where the candidates declare a party but where it would be allowable for 2 members from the same party to appear on the General Election ballot OR a different nominating system, one made of up elected officials with direct accountability to voters.

I believe the Legislature will make the races Partisan.  Many education groups will oppose this move, and favor Non-Partisan, Direct Elections.  But even if Non-Partisan, Direct Elections are the better way to elect State School Board members (and personally I prefer it to Partisan), it is a tough sale to a partisan elected body.  The wild card here is if one of the unconventional ideas which have been floating around gains traction.  Frankly, the fate of unconventional ideas depends upon their holder.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

While this analysis of court options is simply an “I’m not a lawyer but play one on the Internet” post, one thing is for sure: the clock is ticking.  Ballots need to be printed in the next 2 weeks.

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