Record editorial: End to signature-gathering debate provides a win for the people
March 7, 2019
The voice of the people is more important than the voice of the party.
It will continue to be that way when it comes to nominating candidates in Utah after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge from the Utah Republican Party to the state law that allows candidates to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures.
The battle over the law, passed in 2014 as S.B. 54, has caused rancor among Republicans for several years. The party's ultra-conservative wing has vigorously fought the law because, the argument goes, allowing people seeking office to bypass the state's caucus and convention system strips the party of the power to pick its own candidates. While disagreement within the GOP over S.B. 54 will remain, the Supreme Court's announcement ends the legal debate surrounding it at last.
That's a good thing for the people of Utah. The power, after all, should be with them.
Unfortunately, that's not an attribute of the caucus and convention system. It is, to put it bluntly, a terrible method of selecting candidates. The process is confusing and cumbersome, and only the most devoted partisans typically participate, resulting in nominations, particularly in the Republican Party, that skew in favor of hard-line candidates out of step with the state's political mainstream.
That's how Mike Lee, a member of the Tea Party movement, was able to topple three-term GOP Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 despite the incumbent's broad popularity among voters statewide, for instance. A more recent example of the system's inherent flaws came last year when hard right U.S. Senate candidate Mike Kennedy bested Mitt Romney at the GOP convention. A statewide GOP electorate, in contrast, selected the more moderate Romney with 71 percent of the vote in the primary that followed.
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Allowing candidates to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures eliminates the dissonance. Parties can still hold their caucuses and conventions, but the ability of hardliners to put forth a binding result is limited, ensuring the nominating power resides with the broader electorate instead of partisan diehards. Utahns ultimately are able to select candidates more in line with their values.
The Utah Republican Party is likely to continue to rail against S.B. 54, particularly the next time a moderate candidate bests GOP insiders' favored candidate in a primary. But the law is here to stay.
For that, Utahns can rejoice.
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