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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The stakes have been raised in the Count My Vote debate

Published: Sunday, Feb. 16 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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Utah lawmakers are grappling with many difficult issues, but discussions regarding the political party nomination process have been subdued — until now.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, has introduced legislation that could dramatically raise the stakes for the Count My Vote initiative, creating contentious debate inside and outside the Capitol. We explore the ramifications.

Is the Bramble legislation a credible option to the current system or is the Count My Vote initiative the superior choice to increase citizen participation in politics?

Pignanelli: "Better to be the architect of something you can endorse than the placard waving protagonist standing in the rain." — Tim Woods

The statewide conversation of whether the state should abandon the delegate/convention system is becoming more emotional, controversial and divisive. Sen. Bramble — being Sen. Bramble — cannot help himself from entering any fray and creating common ground (as he did with immigration and most heated issues in the Legislature).

The "Bramble Alternative" infuses more complexity into the process, but enhances democratic elements throughout the entire election cycle. His rather elegant solution preserves the convention architecture unique to Utah (and beloved by so many), but provides a 48-hour window to select delegates through both precinct meetings and the Internet. This novel idea promotes the "neighborhood feel" many Utahns appreciate when choosing delegates yet also expands opportunities for moderates to triumph over extremism. He reduces the entry barriers for candidates whose party struggled in the last election. But the most attractive feature Bramble offers is the mandate that nonaffiliated voters can participate in partisan primaries. Right-wingers are viciously attacking the plan and the sponsor, which — as political insiders know — only invigorates “Brambo” to push harder.

If implemented, Bramble's proposal would significantly change many dynamics in Utah political campaigns — for the better.

Webb: As a passionate volunteer supporter of Count My Vote, I’m pleased that Bramble and virtually all reasonable people have concluded that Utah’s party nomination process needs significant reform. It would not have happened without the hard work of Count My Vote to mobilize and engage citizens. I believe Bramble genuinely wants to improve the system and broaden participation. However, his clever bill could destroy Count My Vote if the political parties adopt SB54 reforms — leaving the caucus/convention system intact, still susceptible to manipulation and control by extreme elements of the political parties.

Count My Vote’s proposal asks voters to choose whether all voters, through a direct primary, have a voice in selecting party nominees, creating broader participation in our political system, instead of continuing to centralize power in a select few caucus attendees and convention delegates, many of whom do not reflect mainstream Utah positions.

How should initiative supporters respond to Bramble and the Legislature? Does this help or hurt their efforts?

Pignanelli: The graveyard of failed Bramble bills is a small piece of real estate. His elegant solution has something for everyone and should pass the Legislature. Then once Utahns learn of the legislative changes, enthusiasm for Count My Vote will diminish. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that supporters of Count My Vote declare victory and endorse Bramble's efforts. Count My Vote leaders did not waste money or work — they revealed flaws in the state political structure and are directly responsible for prompting Bramble to structure a compromise. Count My Vote and Bramble can spend the rest of 2014 working out the kinks in preparation for the 2016 elections.

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