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Runoff elections bill passed by Senate, but changes being sought

FILE: Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo speaks in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City in 2014. Bramble's bill regarding runoff elections passed through the Utah senate on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.
FILE: Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo speaks in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City in 2014. Bramble's bill regarding runoff elections passed through the Utah senate on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would require runoff elections in primary races with more than three candidates where no one gets at least 35 percent of the vote.

The sponsor of SB114, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said concerns have been raised recently by county clerks about the timeline for a potential extra election between the June primary and November general elections.

Bramble told senators he was aware they were being "inundated" with emails about the issue but urged them to pass the bill on to the House while a solution was being worked out with the state elections office.

Later, he said there's a push to move up the state's primary from the fourth to the first Tuesday in June, a date he believes may be too soon. Bramble said there are other changes to the election timeline that could be made.

Mark Thomas, head of the Utah State Elections Office, said clerks are concerned with the quick turnaround to get a runoff election done properly. The bill calls for an August runoff, if needed, done by mail to save time and money.

The Senate passed the bill, 23-0. It is intended to resolve the final issue remaining in the Utah GOP's legal battle over the 2014 law known as SB54 offering candidates an alternative to the traditional party caucus and convention nomination system.

That issue is what happens when candidates win by only a plurality rather than a majority, something that didn't happen last year in the first election under the new system allowing candidates to gather voter signatures for a spot on the ballot.

The Utah Republican Party's State Central Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to consider whether SB114 is a satisfactory resolution. The party lost a case against the state over SB54 in federal court but has held out the possibility of an appeal.

Bramble attempted to get the bill passed before the party officials meet, even though Utah GOP Chairman James Evans has stopped short of saying publicly it will be enough to end the legal fight.

The situation has frustrated Senate leaders.

"There's been nothing but beat up the Legislature from the Republican Party over passing SB54. So that's frustrating for us," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Wednesday, after SB114 passed an initial Senate vote.

Niederhauser said while it's "probable" there will be support for the runoff solution by the GOP central committee, there is no guarantee.

"We live a life of uncertainty in the Legislature," he said.