SALT LAKE CITY — While opposing groups squabble over voter signatures on the Count My Vote ballot initiative, the state has asked a federal appeals court to reject the Utah Republican Party's request for a full review of the Utah law at the heart of the controversy.
The state GOP asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last month for an "en banc" hearing to reconsider the court's 2-1 decision in March upholding the law known as SB54.
The 2014 statute permits candidates to bypass a political party's traditional caucus and convention system for selecting nominees by collecting voter signatures to guarantee a place on the primary ballot.
Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green argues in a 26-page motion filed late Tuesday that by asking for the rehearing, the Utah GOP is seeking an "unprecedented" outcome.
"(The party) wants this court to be the first in 229 years of American jurisprudence to hold that the First Amendment prohibits states from requiring political parties to nominate their general election candidates by primary election, and allowing candidates to qualify for the primary ballot by nomination petition. Nothing justifies that unprecedented request," he wrote.
Green told the Judiciary Interim Committee on Wednesday that he anticipates the court would rule on the hearing in two to three weeks.
Opponents of the law are staking their arguments on Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich's dissenting opinion in the case that the law appears designed to allow outsiders to "hijack" the party's platform. Tymkovich wrote that changes to a party's nomination process are not for a legislature to impose.
The Utah GOP has been deeply divided over the law, passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature as a compromise with backers of the Count My Vote ballot initiative that would have replaced the traditional system with a direct primary. State GOP Chairman Rob Anderson tried to end the lawsuit last year but was overruled by the party's State Central Committee.
Meantime, the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office, which oversees state elections, on Wednesday found 105 Count My Vote petition packets turned in by Utah County that appear to not have been reviewed by the county clerk's office.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox sent Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson a terse letter Wednesday ordering him to process the packets and explain in writing by the end of day why they were not processed.
Inititaive backers also found 51 unprocessed packets in other counties, including Washington County, totaling about 6,000 signatures in all, said Count My Vote executive director Taylor Morgan.
Those signatures could be key to Count My Vote getting its initiative to maintain the dual-track nomination system on the November ballot.
"They are critical, but we are confident we are going to be the ballot," Morgan said.
Keep My Voice, which opposes candidate signature gathering, targeted Utah and Washington counties in its campaign urging voters to remove their signatures from the petition. The group believes enough signature-removal forms have been turned in to disqualify the initiative in three Senate districts — in Utah, Davis and Washington counties — which would keep it off the ballot.
Count My Vote called that declaration premature because there are still more signatures in favor of the initiative to be counted.1 comment on this story
Also, confusion over the deadline to remove signatures could further complicate what may or may not be counted.
Keep My Voice canceled a Wednesday news conference at which it said it would "reveal data acquired through signature removals and door-to-door contact with Utah citizens, correct false claims made by Count My Vote and discuss how Utahns citizens feel about CMV's initiative."
Brandon Beckham, the group's director, said scheduling conflicts with supporters, legislative interim meetings and the upcoming GOP central committee meeting on Saturday made the timing bad for many to attend.