‘Count My Vote’ is coming back and the Utah GOP is going to court

Posted at 12:30 PM, Sep 16, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- The ballot initiative that could effectively destroy the caucus-convention system used to get political candidates on the ballot is coming back.

"Count My Vote" will file by the end of next week with the Utah Lt. Governor's Office, resurrecting its ballot initiative and allowing for a direct primary election for all partisan offices, a source within the campaign told FOX 13.

Count My Vote has pitted Republican against Republican, and been the subject of contentious legislation and litigation. The Utah GOP sued its own elected leaders over a compromise law passed by the Utah State Legislature, and the court battle has left the party upside down in debt.

File photo: Count My Vote volunteers work to collect signatures in October of 2013.

The ballot initiative's resurrection comes as newly-elected Utah GOP chairman Rob Anderson said he would continue with the lawsuit against the state. It's scheduled for arguments before Denver's 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 25.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Thursday, Anderson sounded reluctant. He acknowledged his personal preference was to drop it, but others within the party wanted to go forward.

"There's some political capital I'd have to spend to end the lawsuit," he said.

Last week, the party's State Central Committee ended a meeting before discussing it -- leaving it on Anderson. Some within the party have threatened to oust the newly elected chair if he abandoned the litigation.

Count My Vote was polling to pass with voters in 2014, when the Utah State Legislature struck a deal with the campaign to create a dual path for candidates to get on the ballot. Senate Bill 54 allowed candidates to go through the caucus-convention system like the GOP preferred, or gather signatures.

The Utah GOP sued the state, alleging the law violated their First Amendment right to free association. A federal judge ruled against the party.

Rob Anderson, the newly elected chairman of the Utah GOP, speaks to delegates at the state convention on May 20, 2017. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The litigation has left the Utah Republican Party deep in debt. Governor Gary Herbert recently hosted a fundraiser to help the party -- but he wouldn't allow the money to be used to pay legal costs.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the governor said he believed the party "would be wise" to drop the lawsuit.

"The disappointment to me has been the divisiveness it has caused as a Republican in the Republican Party,"  he said. "The accusations back and forth that 'I'm more pure than you are.'"

He said in hindsight, he probably would have vetoed the compromise bill.

"I signed it because I thought it was a good compromise," Gov. Herbert said. "And the Republican Party has spent a lot of money in litigation, they are significantly upside down -- about $450,000 in debt -- and that's disappointing to me because we should be the party of fiscal responsibility."