“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Count My Vote organizers practically live by this motto. They’ve been swift to capitalize on the sinking approval ratings of Senator Mike Lee and the fiasco of John Swallow’s brief time as our Attorney General. Their argument is that we wouldn’t have gotten either result with direct primaries (nevermind that primary voters are the ones who picked both nominees). Curiously, their proposal doesn’t just limit itself to changing over to a primary election. It also imposes some onerous new requirements that create barriers to additional candidates, barriers that are far greater than any caucus system ever imposed.
Buried on page 15 (of 22!) of the proposal is a new requirement that any candidate for a registered political party must gather signatures from 2% of the registered voters of their party in their district. For your average legislative district, that could mean gathering hundreds or thousands of signatures and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars just on getting the voter database to support it. For a statewide race such as Governor or US Senate, this means only someone who can bring together an army of volunteers to gather tens of thousands of signatures would be considered viable. This would have to be completed in just four and a half months where most of the time is consumed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the legislative session. Given how hard is it for your average initiative petition to accomplish this goal (which, ironically, includes Count My Vote), what hope would a candidate without very deep pockets have?
Contrary to the talking point at getting more qualified candidates on the ballot, this restriction makes it significantly harder for average citizens to run for elective office. It doesn’t even relax the current restrictive signature requirements on independent candidates. Ballot access gets more-or-less thrown under the bus. Even if you strongly believe that primary elections are the way to go, would you swallow this poison pill to get it? Would potential signers still do so if they knew about and understood this provision? I’m guessing probably not.
By sticking to the “we just want more primaries” talking point, Count My Vote simply isn’t being honest about what their proposal does. The overcomplicated initiative language allows things like this to sneak through, things that the legislative process simply would not allow and voters would not tolerate. It’s the same method that allows the federal legislative process to become a mess of unrelated items and issues, a method that Utah’s legislative process does not allow for. Voters deserve the right to consider issues of nomination process and ballot access separately instead of being asked to take Count My Vote’s crap sandwich.