(KUTV) A group of local educators will file a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a 2016 Senate bill that allows partisan elections for the Utah State Board of Education.
“Few things are less vital and should be less partisan than the education of our children,” said Josh Kanter, board chair of the ABU Education Fund and a plaintiff in the litigation in a statement. “We should be doing all that we can to depoliticize anything relating to the success of our education system, not adding to that politicization. Making school board elections partisan will deter some of our most qualified school board candidates and is exactly the wrong thing to be doing in the state and in this political climate.”
Senate Bill 78 was sponsored by State Senator Ann Millner (R, District 18) and passed during the 2016 session. It is set to go into effect for the 2018 elections.
The lawsuit will challenge SB 78 on two constitutional grounds.
First, the group will argue that the bill violates Section 8 of Article X of the Utah Constitution, which prohibits religious or partisan tests in Utah's public education institutions.
Second, the group will argue that forcing school board candidates to participate in partisan elections will result in a caucus or convention nomination process, which could violate "the 'one person one vote' principle of the Utah Constitution."
"In a one-party state where conventions often eliminate primary elections, a comparative handful of party delegates should not be deciding who gets elected to boards of education via an election process that suppresses or eliminates the voices of broad swaths of voters and party adherents in nominating candidates by giving disequal weight to the votes of otherwise similarly-situated voters," the group wrote in a statement. "'One person one vote' is carefully applied in primary and general elections. It ought to apply in what are often the most important elections in Utah, where the heavy majority of districts are dominated by one party or another."
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit will include advocacy groups like the Utah Parent Teacher Association, Utahns for Public Schools and the ABU Education Fund, as well as individuals seeking election to the Utah State Board of Education. They will be represented by David Irvine and Alan Smith.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated SB 78 might violate Section 12 of Article X of the Utah Constitution. It has been corrected.