SALT LAKE CITY -- A group calling itself Protect Our Neighborhood Elections has formed to fight an initiative petition to change the way Utah elects candidates for political office.
The bipartisan group is in the process of selecting its co-chairmen and board of directors, said spokesman James Humphreys, political director of the group Log Cabin Republicans.
It has filed papers with the state to create a political issues committee -- Utah First -- that will allow it to raise and spend money against the petition backed by the group Count My Vote.
The committee is led by former state Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, and Rob Cox, a Cedar City accountant.
The group wants to retain Utah's unique system of local caucus meetings and a nominating convention to select party nominees.
Count My Vote, whose leaders include former Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican, and former first lady Norma Matheson, a Democrat, support using primary elections to select nominees instead.
"We believe very strongly that the Count My Vote proposal as drafted will damage the voice of a lot of people in the state of Utah and their ability, whether they're Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated, to have their local issues understood, both by the Legislature and most certainly by the federal delegation," Humphreys said.
Taylor Morgan, co-executive director of County My Vote, said his group expected opposition.
"It's no surprise that some delegates and party insiders oppose us. They currently have complete control over the nomination process and are reluctant to share that power with all Utah voters," Morgan said.
Count My Vote has scheduled seven public hearings on its petition across the state this week. The hearings are required under state law before the group can begin gathering the 102,000 signatures needed to qualify its proposal for the 2014 ballot.
Hearings will be held Wednesday in Logan, Provo and Taylorsville, and Thursday in Vernal, Ephraim, Price and Cedar City. An eighth hearing will be held online, probably Friday.
Under Utah's current system, a candidate can avoid a primary by receiving 60 percent of the vote from delegates at the conventions. If no candidate reaches the 60 percent threshold, the top two candidates compete in a primary election.
Count My Vote organizers say the current system is antiquated, prevents many people from having a voice and results in the election of candidates who are outside the mainstream.
But opponents say the use of a direct primary election would allow a primary winner to advance with a small percentage of the vote and give special interests and corporations greater say than parties in determining nominees.
Both major political parties have gone on record in support of the current system.