SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An initiative to reform Utah’s nominating system failed to make the ballot after opponents convinced nearly 3,000 people to withdraw their name from a petition in support of the measure, election officials said Tuesday.
Initiatives on medical marijuana, redistricting and Medicaid expansion did make the ballot, officials announced, making them the first to be decided by Utah voters in 14 years.
Tuesday’s result is a victory for defenders of the current political system, but will also heighten questions about the ability to block initiatives from reaching voters. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has spoken out against urging voters to withdraw names from petitions they’ve already signed and said last week the system ought to be rethought.
The failure keeps intact a dual-track process allowing Utah politicians to reach their party’s primary through one of two routes: either win the support of local delegates at a state convention or gather a certain number of signatures from voters. Critics say it gives too much power to ideologically rigid party insiders, but defenders argue it puts candidates on a level playing field no matter their campaign budget.
In deep red Utah, the stakes are large. In much of the state, a Republican nominee is a virtual shoo-in for office, so the battle over the party’s nomination can be vastly more important than the general election.
This year, the Count My Vote campaign pushed for changes to lower the number of signatures needed to reach the primary without going to convention, theoretically making that route more attractive. Opponents called it a slow but steady attempt to kill off the convention system.
In early May, they appeared to be a lock for the ballot by hitting certain thresholds statewide and in at least 26 of Utah’s 29 Senate districts, according to preliminary data from the state election office.
But then opponents sprung in action. Campaigners with the anti-initiative Keep My Vote campaign went door-to-door asking those same voters to withdraw their signatures.
Keep My Vote Director Brandon Beckham said many voters had been misled into signing the petition and didn’t stand by it.
“It wasn’t really hard to tell them the truth,” he said. “Quite frankly, I was surprised at the high success rate we had.”
In the end, the initiative met thresholds in only 23 of 29 Senate districts.
Count My Vote Executive Co-chair Rich McKeown said his group would soon be filing a lawsuit against the state over additional signatures he thinks should have counted.
“We are persuaded that there are thousands, literally, of signatures that should have been validated but have not been,” he said. “What we’re saying is that human beings did it. Human beings potentially made errors.”
Keep My Voice sued Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox last week, accusing him of bias and failing to perform election duties. That case will continue despite his office’s certification, Beckham said.
Opponents of the medical marijuana initiative had also encouraged voters to withdraw their names from a petition to put it on the ballot.
More than 1,400 did so, but that wasn’t enough to halt it from securing a spot on the ballot.
Still, that initiative is also headed to court. Opponents have claimed it violates the state’s constitution and, since marijuana remains outlawed at the federal level, would force state employees to aid and abet criminal behavior.
Written by JULIAN HATTEM, Associated Press
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