Constitution Party of Utah and GOP Agree Elections Should Serve Parties

Residents of Utah are preparing for a different system for selecting general election candidates, but a third party is teaming up with a major party to maintain the status quo.

“Count My Vote,” a plan to introduce a primary for candidates with sufficient signatures alongside the caucus-convention process, passed the Republican-dominated legislature in 2014. In the state’s traditional caucus process, a candidate who received 60% of the delegates at the caucus would have his or her name automatically placed on the November ballot. This system ousted long-term incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Bennett in 2010, opening the door for Mike Lee, who won the primary runoff.

The Utah Republican Party has long opposed the “Count My Vote” campaign on the grounds that it violated the party’s right of freedom of association. At a meeting of the GOP Central Committee in the spring, the party agreed to stop trying to prevent the law’s implementation while also filing a lawsuit against it. At the meeting, they agreed to have the GOP become a “Qualified Political Party,” maintaining their caucus system, while also providing that a person may get on the ballot by receiving enough signatures, in accordance with the law.

There has been no ruling yet on the law, but the Constitution Party of Utah filed a motion Friday to let it enter into settlement talks. What the Constitution Party appears to desire is a resolution without going to court or any further dragging out of animosities:

“A settlement conference may be very helpful in bringing about a settlement among the parties. It is the opinion of the Constitution Party of Utah that the barriers to settlement are surmountable. It will merely take energy and resolve to reach settlement. That is why the magistrate judge’s involvement could be helpful in encouraging the parties to make progress toward the end goal.”

The Constitution Party expressed its interest in the lawsuit earlier this year when the Utah GOP began threatening to sue the state. Collin Simonsen, a candidate for the U.S. House in 2014 — who also signed Friday’s motion — said in February:

“The First Amendment extends special protection to the process by which a political party chooses to select its standard bearer and in this case the State has impermissibly interfered with that process. This lawsuit is essential to protect the freedom of association enjoyed by private political parties prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 54.”

By inserting itself into the conflict, the Constitution Party of Utah is in a unique position. As a third party, the Constitution Party is frequently excluded from the broader electoral process by not having much access to media or candidates’ debates. However, their presence in this dispute over the caucus adds to the debate about how candidates should be selected.

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