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Leavitt: Romney backs Count My Vote initiative

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 10:00 p.m. MST

This file photo shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waving to supporters at an election night rally in 2012.

Stephan Savoia, Associated Press Archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah, confirmed Sunday that Mitt Romney has thrown his support behind the Count My Vote effort to bring a primary election system to Utah.

In an email dated Feb. 19, addressed to Leavitt and obtained by KSL, Romney says, "I want to tell you Ann and I are supporters," he tells Leavitt, one of the organizers of the Count My Vote effort.

Romney writes he has been "pushing hard" for states to move to direct primaries since the most recent election.

"Convention/caucus systems exclude so many people," the email reads. "They rarely produce a result that reflects how rank and file Republicans feel. I think that's true for Democrats, too."

Count My Vote is an initiative drive calling for direct primary elections in Utah. If enough signatures are gathered for the issue to be placed on the ballot in November and it passes, it would do away with the current caucus/convention system of picking candidates.

The email also indicates former GOP presidential candidate Romney feels the Utah Legislature "shouldn't interfere" with the effort to put the issue to a vote.

Leavitt, contacted Sunday, confirmed receipt of the email.

"I think Utahns respect Mitt Romney, and I think Mitt Romney feels like most Utahns do, that the Legislature needs to respect the opportunity for voters to vote on something as important as how we elect … our public officials," Leavitt said.

This is not the first time Romney has made statements about favoring primaries over caucuses. In November, the former Massachusetts governor told the Boston Globe he was concerned the caucus system could end up with "a minority deciding who the nominee ought to be. And I think that would be a mistake," Romney told the Globe.

Revelations of Romney's support comes after supporters of the current caucus/convention system delivered two counter-punches to Count My Vote on Friday: passage of a Senate bill that would nullify some of the key elements of the initiative, and a complaint by Protect Our Neighborhood Elections seeking to invalidate most of the 100,000 names Count My Vote has gathered to get the initiative on the November ballot.

The group also claims Count My Vote workers violated state elections law in collecting signatures.

Count My Vote executive co-chairman Rich McKeown called SB54, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, a "clever ploy" to disregard the voice of Utahns.

In the email, Romney said he's "quite surprised" the Legislature is supporting a bill that would "nullify in advance the Count My Vote proposal."

"It seems to me if voters use a constitutional process to formally demand a chance to vote on something, the Legislature shouldn't interfere. I'm especially surprised legislators would interfere with a ballot measure defining how they get elected. It smacks of self-interest and feels very wrong," Romney writes.

Bramble has called his bill a compromise and said there is broad support to change the candidate nomination process and increase voter participation.

"An interesting thing about this, if you look at people who support it, almost anyone who has ever been a governor or a member of Congress or senator or a state legislator, they want this change to be made," Leavitt said Sunday.

"Ironically, it's just those who are currently in office who have to get elected that would like to have the systems stay as it is," he said.

Attempts to contact Romney on Sunday were not successful.

Email: rpiatt@ksl.com

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