Last week, the “Count My Vote” committee announced plans to once again collect signatures and place an initiative before Utah voters in November of 2018. An initiative petition is the most formal citizen action provided to “the people” by the Utah State Constitution. The question is this: who should choose Utah’s elected officials — a small group of political party insiders, or the people themselves? We think the answer is clear. The time has come for the people to decide.
“Count My Vote” was first proposed in 2013 to modernize and broaden Utah’s antiquated and exclusionary system for nominating political candidates. In 2014, it was tabled in favor of a negotiated compromise. Then and now, people have asked us why.
Simply put, it is because we believe that if people are allowed to choose elected officials for themselves, we will achieve greater voter participation and better government.
For decades, Utah was the only state in America where a caucus/convention system allowed the elimination of qualified candidates without any say from regular voters. Significant attempts to end this practice through party rules were rejected. Sadly, the political parties viewed a role for regular citizens as a threat to their power. Not only did they refuse to change, they threatened retaliation against state legislators who supported any change.
In 2014, Count My Vote gathered most of the signatures necessary to put a citizens’ initiative on the ballot. Then the Legislature intervened, creating a compromise known as Senate Bill 54. This dual system preserved the caucus/convention system, but also created an alternate path to the primary ballot through gathering signatures. SB54 provided the best of both worlds.
At first people felt optimistic that the SB54 compromise struck the right balance by preserving a role for political parties while giving voters more choices, as is done in most states. Regrettably, what ensued were nearly four years of litigation and threats of retaliation against state legislators by the Republican Party of Utah. Then last legislative session, the House of Representatives voted to renege on its original commitment. Credit our Senate and governor for having the wisdom and integrity not to waiver.
It is time for resolution. Not only is this controversy creating discord and doing significant damage to Utah’s political institutions, it is standing in the way of permanent, commonsense improvements in our election system that would produce broader participation and better government.
We long ago realized that the SB54 compromise proved a good one. Utahns like it and it has performed well. Voters have more choices and are beginning to respond with greater engagement. Our object was to create more interest and give voters more choices. While imperfect, the SB54 dual path has done just that.
For that reason, the Count My Vote committee has concluded that we must once again mobilize a citizens’ initiative to reaffirm the SB54 compromise, with a few necessary refinements. Such a vote will make any attempt by political parties or officeholders to subvert the people’s will a direct slap in the face of Utah’s voters.
A ballot initiative is extremely difficult to organize and fund. We will gather petition signatures from over 130,000 Utah voters, located in all 29 state Senate districts. We must then mount a campaign to educate voters on the issue.
Is it worth the effort and money to make these changes? Yes! It is not overstating to say that this will be the most significant change to Utah’s electoral process in over a century. It will affect every single election by giving voters a greater role and a way to overrule party delegates who sometimes fail to represent the views of everyday Utahns.
We hope you will stand with us to ensure that the voice of every citizen is heard in the electoral process. It is time for Utah’s people to join together and declare, “Count my vote!”
Mike Leavitt is a former governor of Utah, Gail Miller is the chairwoman of Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and Salt Lake Community College, Norma Matheson is the former first lady of Utah and wife of the late Gov. Scott Matheson, Ben McAdams is the Salt Lake County mayor and Rich McKeown is chairman of the Leavitt Partners Board of Directors. These five signatories are sponsors of the Count My Vote initiative.