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GOP agrees to drop SB54 lawsuit against the state if lawmakers satisfactorily address plurality

FILE - Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser talk prior to Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert, delivering his State of the State address from the House of Representatives at the State Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Utah GOP leaders hav
FILE - Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser talk prior to Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert, delivering his State of the State address from the House of Representatives at the State Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Utah GOP leaders have agreed to end their legal fight with the state over a controversial election law known as SB54 "” if the Legislature adequately addresses the concerns it has raised.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republican leaders have agreed to end their legal fight with the state over a controversial election law known as SB54 — if the Legislature adequately addresses certain concerns.

"Certainly, the opportunity to end litigation is something that I think is in everyone's best interest," state Elections Director Mark Thomas said Friday, calling the lawsuit filed by the Utah Republican Party in 2014 expensive and time consuming.

The party's State Central Committee approved a resolution on Aug. 27 stating the GOP will support ending the legal challenge if issues surrounding plurality and other concerns are handled "to the satisfaction" of the committee.

The resolution came after Republican governor Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, promised the committee in a letter that plurality would be on the 2017 Legislature's agenda.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said he believes there is now "sufficient desire to get this issue resolved." Evans said he does not believe the governor and legislative leaders would have sent the letter if that wasn't the case.

Lawmakers have discussed plurality — the possibility a candidate could win a primary election with less than 50 percent of the vote — but haven't agreed on a solution.

Options discussed including holding a runoff election that could cost $2.5 million or more; spending 10 times that to create a system where voters rank candidate preferences; or sending races where there's no majority winner back to the party.

Evans said at this point, the GOP does not have a proposal for dealing with plurality.

Plurality became a concern because SB54 created an alternative path to the primary election ballot for candidates by allowing them to gather voter signatures rather than advance through the traditional caucus and convention system.

The law, passed in 2014 and signed by Herbert, was intended as a compromise with organizers of Count My Vote, a citizens initiative that would have replaced the caucus and convention system with a direct primary.

The state Republican Party has seen the law as compromising its control over nominating candidates and took the state to court. The party lost its case in federal district court in April and an appeal has been under consideration.

Rich McKeown, executive co-chairman of Count My Vote, told KSL News radio's Doug Wright Friday that plurality wasn't a problem in this year's primary elections, the first under SB54.

"We have seen more people run, more contested races," McKeown said. "It was a very, very positive outcome for the citizens of Utah. I think it begins to break this cycle of (party) delegate control."

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