Utah’s biggest 2014 initiative
Utah is currently one of 14 states that uses the caucus system in its elections. There’s a new effort to change Utah’s political nomination system from a caucus and convention system to a primary system. The group Keep our Caucus / Protect Our Neighborhood Elections has established itself to defend Utah’s current caucus system. Count My Vote is the organization behind the movement to move Utah away from its current election process. Its goal is to allow voters to pick party nominees through a primary election.
As of January 10, 2014, Count My Vote had raised $810,000 including a $100,000 donation from Gail Miller according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Protect Our Neighborhood Elections had raised $9,224 by January 10.
PoliticIt invited former Utah House Rep. and current House Rep. Candidate Fred C. Cox to share his thoughts on the benefits of Utah’s current caucus and convention system. Rhett Wilkinson, a former project manager with Utah Policy Daily, was asked to share his thoughts on the benefits of moving to a non-caucus system.
From Fred C. Cox
The Neighborhood Election and Convention system in Utah is the best way to make sure a grassroots process can win over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2 million in election funds.
We want neighbors discussing the best candidates and finding ways to improve this state and the nation. If the system is changed, we would be dropping off votes, but not meeting and discussing candidates and issues. That is what is wrong with Washington, D.C. They don’t listen to each other in a meeting. They watch from their offices. We need to change that, not perpetuate it.
We already have a “bypass” system, filing as an unaffiliated candidate. A candidate can go straight to the general election ballot. Someone who doesn’t think they can win if vetted by average citizens asking one on one questions can still run and spend their money. Why should they be a political party nominee if they are going to bypass their political party?
At only one time for 10 years in Utah’s history did the state depart from the Neighborhood Election, Caucus and Convention System. In 1937, a powerful democratic state senator convinced enough of the legislature to switch to an open primary. He had had two losses, a US Senate race and also for governor, because the majority of the convention delegates disagreed with his legislative voting record. But he was well known and had money.
Many at the time felt like an open primary was his ticket to the governorship, and he did win. But the change in the system only lasted for a decade. After public and media disillusionment, and even worse voter turnout, Utah restored the Caucus and Convention System. Why go back?
Our current problem with voter turnout is it has not kept up with the population increases. The voter turnout keeps going up but not as fast as the population. Some of that is the younger voters, where Utah has a larger percentage of them and they aren’t, as a group, as involved. We need to educate those moving in and not understanding our system.
Many citizens who attend their neighborhood elections and caucus meeting become interested in politics and get involved in their communities, the state and the nation. They meet and help candidates become elected. Some then later become candidates. This should be encouraged through education.
The system and the experience attending the meetings can always be improved, but the “Count My Vote” initiative isn’t the way to do it. Any changes to the system the political parties use to determine their nominees should be determined by the political parties.
Fair Elections Utah. Help us fight the “Count My Vote”, or “Buy My Vote” initiative.
From Rhett Wilkinson
#1: Utah voters continually rank improving education number one on their list of public policy priorities. But in 2010, state delegates from one party ranked improving education 11th.
#2: Utah has the highest barrier for candidates – 40 percent of party delegates’ votes. (Among the other four states which still use a convention, three are an average of 18.3 percent lower. The other uses endorsements only.)
#3: In 1960, more than 78 percent of Utah voters went to the polls. In 2012, just 51 percent of Utah’s voting age population cast a ballot, ranking Utah just 39th nationally in voter turnout.
This could continue. Bottom line: Utah’s caucus-convention system needs fixing. Graciously, Count My Vote offers just that. Parties would hold direct primaries to choose their candidates to appear on the November general election ballot, allowing all Utah voters a voice in the candidate selection process. Voter participation would be increased and engagement broadened through a citizens’ initiative petition.
Utah’s current system? It’s the most restrictive in the nation (see #2). (Awfully, it even keeps out military servicemen, missionaries, or those who must work – including mothers who must attend to their children.) State parties could have avoided this. Count My Vote merely asked that they raised the convention vote threshold to avoid a primary election to between 70 and 80 percent. The GOP was already at 60 percent and had been higher before.
By rejecting a raise at last year’s convention, GOP delegates revealed their selfishness and proved exactly why reform is needed. I know because I was there as a delegate. Despite supporting Count My Vote, I still was tempted to vote the status quo. (Why would I want to yield power?) Delegates wield far more of it than the Utah political “establishment” would in an open primary. The “establishment” is confident that if given a voice, Utahns would support candidates seeking pragmatism and cooperation both in Washington and the Beehive State.
The alternative? “Self-promoters,” to borrow a term from Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards, willing to shut down the federal government. Mike Lee is what the caucus-convention system gave thousands of Americans personally harmed by the shutdown. It was Lee, “The Man Behind the Shutdown Curtain,” who schemed behind closed doors in leading the shutdown movement.
In offering SB 54, Sen. Curt Bramble said Count My Vote offered no common ground with the parties. This is false. In suggesting that the Republican and Democratic parties raise the threshold to avoid a primary election, Count My Vote offered just that. That was talking Bramble’s language, too, since SB54 would require a candidate to get at least 65 percent of the delegate vote at convention.
Conservative leaders are trying to benefit by rejecting Count My Vote.
Bramble represents Provo, the most conservative city in Utah. He’s trying to score points with his constituents.
Mitt Romney supports the reform what Count My Vote seeks. “I’m concerned that there’s an effort on the part of some to move toward caucuses or conventions to select nominees, and I think that’s a mistake,” he said in November. “I’m concerned that that kind of approach could end up with a minority deciding who the nominee ought to be. I think we should have the majority of the party’s voters decide who they want as their nominee. I think we should reward those states that award delegates to the convention based upon primaries. Primaries are the place where you see whose message is connecting with the largest number of people.”
Virginia Republicans can warn Utah Republicans. After replacing their primary system with a convention before the election just last year, one of their own suspended his campaign. That led to the nomination of a fellow GOP candidate who then went on to lose in the general election to a Democrat.
Many say The Salt Lake Tribune is liberal, the LDS Church-owned Deseret News conservative. But both have promoted – really, championed – Count My Vote. (Read the Tribune editorial here and the Deseret News editorial here.)
Ultimately, Count My Vote wants to let Utahns decide. If it gathers 102,000 signatures from 26 of 29 counties by next month, it could merely go on the ballot in November.
Let’s let all voters have a say.
We can do that.
Videos on the debate
Utah Senator Wayne Niederhauser
Utah Senator Jim Dabakis
The Salt Lake Tribune “Trib Talk” on Caucus or Count My Vote
The County Seat 3 Part Series
The Truth About Count My Vote Utah
Utah Valley Count My Vote Initiative Debate
Billy Hesterman of the Daily Herald joins Provo Channel 17 and the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce for a debate between the Count My Vote Initiative and the Utah County Republican’s Protect My Neighborhood Elections. The debate was held Friday morning 02/07/14 at 8 AM in the Utah Valley Convention Center.
Mero Moment 1-10-12: Count My Vote Proposal
Know the Truth about Utah’s Neighborhood Caucus Elections
Published on Jan 18, 2014
Learn about Utah’s caucus/convention/primary system. See who is attacking it. Find out why YOU should defend it against big money and corporate interests. Explode the myths being lobbed on an unsuspecting populace. Support the efforts to protect Neighborhood Elections.
What do you think?
What merits does Utah’s current election system have? Should we change up our election system? Who wins the debate? Let us know in the comment section below.