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How SB 54 cleared the way for election changes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The same legislative measure that cleared the way for candidates to get on the ballot using a signature-gathering method instead of Utah’s traditional caucus-convention system has also cleared the way for changes to the way an election works in Utah. As a result, voters are facing more propositions and initiatives on the ballot.

Changes in elections mean more ballot initiatives

In addition to deciding 2018 midterm contests for the U.S. House and Senate, Utah voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana and expand Medicaid. Another proposition would create a commission to redraw boundary lines for representation in the future.

There’s also a question about whether to increase the gas tax in Utah to better fund transportation, allowing more of the state’s General Fund money to be used on education.

“The reason why we have them is, the general public has perceived, after years of frustration, that the legislature was tone-deaf,” Tim Chambless, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, says. “Legislators were not listening to the concerns of the general public, and so, therefore, as a result, we had this grassroots effort.”

Senate Bill 54

The end result was the passage of Senate Bill 54 in 2014. A compromise deal reached during the SB 54 debate process means that both the caucus-convention and signature-gather are now legitimate ways for candidates to have their names appear on a primary ballot.

Included in that legislation was a provision to allow the gathering of signatures to get voter-led initiatives, known as propositions, on the ballot.

Chambless says the use of caucuses and conventions to determine primary results was seen by many as un-Democratic.

“And so the signature process has broadened that franchise, broadened the opportunity for more candidates and for voters to have more choices,” Chambless says. “And that’s what we want.”

As a member of the Utah Democratic Party, Chambless unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination to run for Salt Lake City Council earlier this year. Instead of gathering signatures, he tried to win the support of delegates at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention.

Chambless added that signature-gathering has energized the electorate to engage in the basics of good citizenship.

“That is, to register to vote, and to vote,” he says.