SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party filed another lawsuit against the state late Friday over a controversial law that changes how political parties choose nominees for public office.
The new complaint challenges the constitutionality of the signature gathering process the law allows candidates to pursue to get on the primary election ballot, among other things.
"The state has taken away and misappropriated the party’s right to determine for itself the candidate selection process that will produce a nominee who best represents the party’s political platform," the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court states.
The lawsuit comes as about 70 Republican candidates for various offices have declared with the state elections their intent to collect signatures. Sen Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, for one, has already turned in his petitions.
The state Republican Party wants a judge to stop the state from enforcing the law.
This is the second time in the past 13 months that the Utah GOP has sued Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox over SB54.
A group called Count My Vote two years ago set out to increase voter participation by changing how political parties choose candidates. Supporters dropped a statewide petition drive calling for a referendum on a direct primary election in exchange for getting an alternative path to the ballot.
As a compromise, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed SB54 to let parties keep the state's unique caucus and convention system for choosing nominees, but also allow candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot.
The Utah GOP says it was not part of the deal and took the state to court.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer last fall struck down a provision in the law that required political parties to open primary elections to all voters. The ruling left the rest of SB54 intact, including letting candidates gather signatures without going through a party convention to get on the primary ballot.
The Republican Party claims the law permits parties — not candidates — to choose between the convention system or signature gathering on behalf of their candidates. It has chosen the convention route and has said candidates who only collect signatures would no longer be members of the party under new rules adopted last summer.
But the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees state elections, maintains the law clearly leaves the choice to candidates, and that the state would permit candidates to go through the convention, gather signatures or both to qualify for the primary election.
The GOP argues that the state is now dictating who is and isn't allowed to be a member and how the party defines membership, and that the party has no say in whether a person may seek a nomination in a way that is contrary to its rules.
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