SALT LAKE CITY — The price tag for the overhaul of Utah's unique system for nominating political candidates called for in the new Count My Vote initiative adds up to nearly $1 million, according to an estimate released Tuesday.
The estimate by the Governor's Office of Management and Budget comes as initiative backers begin a series of public hearings statewide on replacing the current caucus and convention system with a direct primary election.
The hearings, required to be held around the state before the petitions can be circulated, start Wednesday in Logan, Provo and Taylorsville, and continue Thursday in Vernal, Ephraim, Price and Cedar City.
If the initiative backers gather the signatures required to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot and voters approve the changes, there will be a one-time cost of $48,000 for technology services and the voter information pamphlet.
Then, every two years, there will be $390,000 in estimated expenses associated with processing the petitions submitted by candidates for federal, state and county offices, and another $500,000 in primary election costs.
Taylor Morgan, the executive director of Count My Vote, said the increased costs are a result of primary elections becoming the norm throughout the state and more voters participating.
"We feel great about that," Morgan said. "It's a very small price to pay."
Under the current system, political parties hold caucuses to elect delegates, who vote on nominees at party conventions. Candidates with enough delegate support advance to the general election.
Both the state Republican and Democratic parties rejected changes to the system earlier this year proposed by initiative backers, including former Gov. Mike Leavitt and political consultant LaVarr Webb, a columnist for the Deseret News.
A new group, Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, is sending representatives to the public hearings on the initiative to defend the current system, spokesman James Humphreys said.
Humphreys questioned the timing of the hearings, which coincide with the Utah Legislature's interim day and a special session to deal with the impacts of the federal government shutdown.
He said the timing "fails to meet the spirit of the law. As such, it raises some serious concerns for those of us who support our current caucus/convention/primary system."
Morgan said the hearings had to be scheduled quickly so Count My Vote can begin circulating petitions. The group must collect nearly 102,000 signatures statewide by next spring to qualify for the next general election ballot.
Count My Vote is planning to launch the petition drive on Oct. 26, the same day the state GOP Central Committee was expected to hold a special meeting to consider some modifications to the system to counter the initiative. The Republicans have moved that meeting to Nov. 2.
Count My Vote will hold public hearings throughout the state Wednesday and Thursday to review its initiative petition.
• Logan: Logan Library, Jim Bridger Room, 255 N. Main, noon
• Provo: Provo City Library, Young Events Room, 550 N. University Ave., noon
• Taylorsville: Salt Lake Community College, Student Event Center, 4600 S. Redwood Road, 7 p.m.
• Vernal: Uintah County Library, large conference room, 204 E. 100 North, noon
• Ephraim: Snow College, Noyes Building Founders Hall, 150 College Ave., noon
• Price: USU-Eastern, Jennifer Leavitt Center Alumni Room, 451 E. 400 North, 7 p.m.
• Cedar City: Southern Utah University, Sharwan Smith Student Center Theater, 351 W. University Blvd., 7 p.m.