SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers who back the state's caucus-convention system and backers of the Count My Vote citizen initiative for direct primary elections have apparently come to an agreement that satisfies both camps.
A statement issued Saturday evening and sent out in a news release by Senate Chief of Staff Ric Cantrell, Spencer Nitz, House Majority Communications Director and Lindsay Zizumbo, Count My Vote Executive Director, said the agreement will be written into amended legislation. A joint news conference detailing the changes is scheduled for Sunday at 4:30 p.m in the Capitol Presentation Room.
"The new legislation will preserve Utah’s caucus-convention system and provide a direct primary alternative based on gathering a threshold of voter signatures," the news release states. "Such a dual system exists in some form in five other states and provides the voting public with the best features of both systems."
The amendment will also open primary elections to unaffiliated voters. Billed as 2nd Substitute Senate Bill 54, it will be sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Rep. Dan McCay, R- Riverton.
An 11 a.m. press conference at the capitol Saturday was called off — reportedly to give the parties more time to iron out details. But day-long negotiations ultimately resulted in a deal.
Friday evening, the parties said they would release details of a compromise between Republican state lawmakers' support of the state's caucus-convention system and the Count My Vote initiative, which seeks direct primaries in Utah.
But a tweet from the Utah Senate said "No presser today, amigos. Stay in bed. Enjoy the rain. Read a book to kids. We'll take up #utpol and #utleg again on Monday."
SB54, sponsored by Bramble, which CMV backers have said would nullify the initiative in process, was scheduled for hearing before the House Goverment Operations Committee at 8 a.m. Monday, in Room 20 of the House Building.
Negotiations between the parties reportedly centered on a proposed agreement that would enable political parties to keep their existing caucus-and-convention system to select candidates, a source told the Deseret News. However, candidates who chooses not to go through the party-convention process could gather a number of signatures from registered voters and advance to the primary ballot and Count My Vote would shelve the initiative.
Under the proposed framework, a candidate running for statewide office would need to collect signatures from 28,000 voters to advance to the primary ballot.
Recently, Count My Vote announced endorsements by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who contributed $50,000 to the effort from his political action committee, records show.
Initiative backers started gathering signatures last September, arguing that the current system of nominating candidates — selecting delegates at neighborhood caucuses who, in most cases, choose the nominee at the party convention — excludes people who can’t attend the meetings, under-represents women and results in candidates who are outside the mainstream.
Earlier this week, the group said it had gathered 100,000 of the roughly 102,000 signatures it needs to get on the ballot, although it was unclear whether it had collected signatures in 26 of 29 Senate districts as required by state law.
According to the statement, leaders in both the Utah House and Senate have announced their plans to act on the amended legislation this week. Meantime, Count My Vote will continue gathering signatures until the bill is passed and signed by the governor.
CONTRIBUTING: Dennis Romboy