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EFFORT TO STEM FORMATION OF NEW PARTIES CLEARS HURDLE

A Senate committee has endorsed a bill that would make it considerably tougher for new political parties to form in Utah.

SB78 passed in the committee Tuesday despite vocal protests from the Utah organizer of Ross Perot's Reform Party, who accused lawmakers on both sides of the aisle of trying to set up roadblocks to prevent any meaningful competition."What is happening is unconscionable," said Claire Geddes, who said she spent hours standing on street corners and outside supermarkets gathering petition signatures for the Reform Party.

"You guys all talk about competition being good - expect for when it's in politics," said Geddes, who is chair of the Perot watchdog group United We Stand America. "It's just not to your benefit to have more than two parties."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, increases from 500 to 5,000 the number of signatures needed on petitions to form a new political party. The measure initially called for 15,000 signatures, but the number was amended.

State elections clerk Kelleen Potter of the Lieutenant Governor's Office said the 15,000 number amounted to about 2 percent of the vote in the last general election. That's also the number a candidate for a political party must receive in order to automatically qualify the party for the next election.

Potter said the state had eight political parties on the ballot last November and that "things got confusing." One party only had one person show up at its convention. Several others failed to follow proper procedures in registering candidates and filling out necessary forms. Any more parties, she said, and the state may be forced to have two ballots.

But Geddes said the state should accommodate, rather than squelch, political competition.

"I don't care if there are 40 parties on the ballot," she said. "Democracy is messy, but it's the form of government we have chosen."

The bill now goes to the full Senate for debate.