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Count My Vote not ready to revive initiative — yet

FILE - Count My Vote workers drop off a petition with thousands of signatures to the Salt Lake county clerks office in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Now that the congressional candidate chosen by Republican delegates appears to have lost in the p
FILE - Count My Vote workers drop off a petition with thousands of signatures to the Salt Lake county clerks office in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Now that the congressional candidate chosen by Republican delegates appears to have lost in the primary election, there's new talk about reviving the Count My Vote initiative to take away the party's nominating powers.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the congressional candidate chosen by Republican delegates appears to have lost in the primary election, there's new talk about reviving the Count My Vote initiative to take away the party's nominating powers.

But a Count My Vote leader said Thursday no decision has been made about launching a new petition drive to put the question of whether the state should have direct primary elections on the November 2018 ballot.

"Count My Vote is considering every option to assure that all Utah voters have a voice in choosing candidates. We are not committed to moving forward with a new initiative," Rich McKeown, the group's executive chairman, said in a statement.

It's the same thing McKeown has been saying for some time, as the Utah Republican Party continues its legal battle over the 2015 compromise that Count My Vote reached with state lawmakers in return for withdrawing its initiative then.

Known as SB54, the compromise created an alternative to the traditional caucus and convention nominating system that gives party delegates the power to send candidates directly to the general election ballot.

That alternative path, gathering voter signatures, was utilized by Provo Mayor John Curtis, the winner of Tuesday's Republican congressional primary in the race to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz in the 3rd District.

Curtis also chose to compete at the party's nominating convention, but delegates voted to advance former state lawmaker Chris Herrod to the ballot as their nominee. A third candidate, political newcomer Tanner Ainge, only gathered signatures.

Although Ainge conceded the race on election day, Herrod said he is waiting for more than 33,600 outstanding ballots in Utah County to be counted. Utah County officials plan to release additional results at 3 p.m. Friday.

An update of Salt Lake County's 3rd District results released Thursday afternoon moved Herrod ahead of Ainge, with Herrod collecting nearly 31 percent of the vote to more than 29 percent for Ainge.

But Herrod still lagged behind Curtis, who remained the winner with more than 39 percent. Statewide, Curtis now has an 11-point lead over Herrod and a 15-point lead over Ainge.

Herrod and other members of the Utah GOP's governing State Central Committee are expected to discuss whether to continue appealing a federal court ruling upholding SB54 during their next meeting on Sept. 9.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is set to hear the party's appeal on Sept. 25, but Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson said it's "fiscally irresponsible" to keep fighting when the party is already $300,000 in debt.

Donors to the party have "atrophied," he said, since the GOP took on the compromise legislation approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

"Nothing about this lawsuit is helping the party. It is stagnating us. It is putting us in a (position of) hope that far down the road things will change," Anderson said. "It has caused a lot of problems. I would love to see it go."

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the primary election results call into question the caucus and convention system.

"I think it puts more pressure on the caucus system. If the caucus system is producing candidates that are not compatible with the preferences of most Republican voters, that's a problem," he said.

The GOP has been in this situation before, when the governor ran for re-election last year and came in second among delegates behind Overstock.com chairman Jonathan Johnson before winning big in the primary and general elections, Karpowitz noted.

"It's clear that delegates have a preference for candidates who are not as competitive in the setting of a primary, where a larger number of voters are going to take part," he said.

Herrod's decision to wait for additional results before conceding the race to the winner called by the Associated Press on election night, however, probably doesn't have any lasting impact, the professor said.

"In the long run, it's not likely to mean very much. The election was quite hard-fought, but the candidates seem to be very gracious toward each other," Karpowitz said. "There's no great acrimony now after the election, at least not in public."

He said the delay in reporting results from the largely by-mail elections points to problems with the process that need to be addressed.

"It's not a good situation to have to wait this many days," Karpowitz said. "We do need to bring closure to these elections in a timely way."

Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the time it takes to count ballots that trickle in through the mail after an election does slow down results.

"That's something for the parties and the state to think about for future elections," Perry said. But he said the election is not final until all votes have been tallied, no matter who concedes.

"A concession speech has no force of law," he said. "The will of the voters carries the day, not the content of a phone call from a candidate who thinks the math is not going to work."