Utah’s Keep Our Caucus vs. Count My Vote – updated

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

FredCoxFinalWe have a system that that does NOT favor the incumbent, the wealthy or the famous. This is a good thing, and should be preserved.

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

RhettFinalThe numbers speak for themselves.

#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.

That’s fair.

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

In support


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

Lowell Nelson
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.

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  1. Lynda

    My rebuttal to Rhett Wilkinson:

    “#1: Utah voters continually rank improving education number one on their list… state delegates from one party ranked improving education 11th.” This statistic gets thrown out a lot (mostly because CMV wanted support from the largest union in the state), but I have never seen how these questions were asked. Did both groups get the same questions? Did the delegates rank other things higher, because they are more involved, interested, or educated in the things that were deemed higher importance? What were the things they thought were more important? National Defense? It is a very vague statistic that has been used because their PR people learned early on that it sells (aka tricks the public into thinking the delegates elected in their local neighborhoods don’t actually represent their local neighborhoods).

    #2 makes no sense whatsoever.

    #3 We had a caucus system in 1960, we had a caucus system in 2012. Saying the caucus system is the cause of voter decline is a stretch at best. Utah got rid of the caucus system in 1937 because, just like today, somebody wanted to get elected and knew they couldn’t fool the delegates. After going to a direct primary voter turnout declined, so they went back to the caucus system 10 years later.

    “Utah’s current system? It’s the most restrictive in the nation.” Not true. It offers the best opportunity for someone without wealth and fame to run against someone who has wealth or fame. It levels the playing field (which is what the CMV people don’t’ like about it).

    “(Awfully, it even keeps out military servicemen, missionaries, or those who must work – including mothers who must attend to their children.)“ I spoke with several return missionaries and military. I asked them if they felt bad that they couldn’t vote in their caucus while away. I only had 1 who said he wished he could vote in his caucus (but, he still strongly supports the current system). IMO the missionary/military/mother ploy is just a manufactured problem. IMO that problem rarely exists, but to cater to the CMV demands the GOP State Central Committee created ways to allow these people who cannot attend their caucus to vote. (Note: Missionaries are not even allowed to vote in primary or general elections if they are out of the state.)

    “Count My Vote merely asked that they raised the convention vote threshold to avoid a primary election to between 70 and 80 percent.”
    Not true. CMV was asking for much more than that and they told the GOP State Central Committee (SCC) that they were going to continue with their petition no matter what we did with the threshold. (See memorandum from LaVarr Webb to the SCC at the end of this commentary.)

    “(Why would I want to yield power?) Delegates wield far more of it than the Utah political “establishment” would in an open primary.”
    The “delegates” are elected every 2 years in neighborhood elections. They are not the same people year after year, so if they have so much “power” the “power” transfers every 2 years to different grassroots delegates. The “power” of the wealthy, elite, establishment lobbyists who want to control ALL elections will not transfer, unless their wealth, name recognition, and media backing changes. (So, very unlikely.)

    “Mike Lee is what the caucus-convention system gave thousands of Americans personally harmed by the shutdown.”
    Not true. First, 57% of the delegates voted for Tim Bridgewater, while only 43% voted for Mike Lee. Mike Lee won in a PRIMARY election.
    *Side note: The same people who attribute the almost single-handed shutdown of the government to Senator Lee are the same people who say he has NO INFLUENCE in DC. Which is it?

    Senator Brambles SB 54, that CMV pretends to hate, mandates many of the same changes that CMV was demanding before they decided to change their initiative to a “direct primary” instead. It is like Brer Rabbit saying, “Don’t throw me in the brier patch!” Bramble’s bill is almost exactly what they wanted to begin with. They only changed their plan to demand something seemingly worse so we would get scared and “settle” for what they set Bramble up to offer us.

    Of course Mitt Romney wants Utah to go away from using delegates to thoroughly vet candidates, because he want’s his son to run against Mike Lee in 2016. Even with the best coaches money could buy, Josh Romney would never be able to beat Senator Lee in a debate, nor could he stand up to the interviews from the delegates. He would not be able to fool the delegates, so he would not be able to win the votes from the delegates. However, in a primary he would stand a very good chance because he has 1) Name Recognition (even though he is not as politically astute as his father, most people would just assume that he is just like his father and vote for him.) 2) He has a lot more money and money backing than Senator Lee, so he would be able to buy the best campaign staff, the most (and best) commercials, and radio ads, because no longer will candidates need to meet face to face with delegates and answer hard questions–they just have to create the best jingle to play on everyone’s TV. 3) Romney’s are highly favored by most of Utah’s media, so the media will (and already have been) post hit piece after hit piece against Senator Lee, while posting positive articles about the Romneys.

    Of course the newspapers prefer direct primaries. The media makes a LOT more money with a direct primary, because that is what candidates use rather than answering face to face with our delegate representatives.


    Memorandum from LaVarr Webb to GOP SCC

    M E M O R A N D U M
    April 12, 2013
    From:     Count My Vote Executive Committee (Gov. Mike Leavitt, Rich McKeown, Maura Carabello, Matt Sanderson, Kirk Jowers, David Hansen, LaVarr Webb, Michael Shea)
    To:   Republican and Democratic party leaders
    Subject:   Update and Statement of Principles
    As you know, over the last several months our group, along with many other Utahns, has been discussing Utah’s process for nominating political party candidates with the goal of increasing voter participation.
    The current caucus/convention nominating process has many excellent qualities that we wish to retain. The system allows candidates who lack fame, wealth, and incumbency to compete for a party’s nomination. We also appreciate the valuable grassroots nature of the process, with neighbors gathering to discuss political issues and candidates.
    We believe, however, that substantive reforms are necessary to reverse the current trend of low voter participation and to ensure good governance and creation of good public policy.
    We believe this matter to be of such high importance that we are in the process of filing the proper paperwork and putting together a large, statewide signature-gathering effort to place a proposal on the 2014 ballot allowing all voters to choose an alternative candidate nomination process. Given the results of survey research and focus groups, we are confident that such a proposal would be strongly supported by most Utah leaders, and would be overwhelmingly approved by voters.
    As part of this process, we have engaged in productive and good-faith discussions with party leaders, and many party members. We are pleased that party leaders have been open-minded, creative, and desirous of increasing participation in the political process. We appreciate their willingness to discuss, negotiate, and seek solutions.
    Some time ago, we developed three important principles that continue to guide our deliberations. We have concluded that if the political parties are able to make internal reforms to fulfill these principles, we will not need to move forward with the ballot measure.    
    Here are our expectations for fulfillment of these principles:
    1.       The nomination process must be inclusive, accessible, and allow participation in the caucus phase by all voters.   A process that requires individuals to attend a particular meeting at a particular place at a particular time on a particular day excludes and discriminates against those who may be away serving their country or church, those who may be ill, those who may be required to work, or away on business. Such a system is not acceptable. Fulfilling this principle will require opening caucus participation over a longer period of time, and providing an accessible method for votes to be cast by those who cannot attend in person.
    2.       Primary election choices must be expanded so more voters have the opportunity to determine a party’s ultimate nominees. This can be achieved by: (a) raising the convention vote threshold to avoid a primary election to between 70% and 80%; (b) certifying for the primary-election ballot any candidate who receives over 20% or 25% of the delegate vote on any ballot during the Convention; and (c) eliminating multiple ballots. These modest changes would provide more choices for the broader party membership in a primary election, which will, in turn, boost Utah’s voter participation rate. While we encourage the parties to consider all of these proposals, raising the threshold to at least 70% is the minimum required to fulfill this principle.
    3.       Some degree of stability, consistency and permanence is necessary so that changing political winds do not result in frequent changes to the system. We recognize that nothing in politics is certain or lasts forever, but we expect party leaders to work to implement long-term internal or statutory solutions to provide stability and predictability.  
    Because of deadlines and the large amount of work involved in mounting a signature petition drive to place a proposal on the 2014 ballot, we will continue our ballot-measure preparations as we monitor the success of the parties in adopting these reforms over the next several weeks. We appreciate party members’ and leaders’ willingness to listen, analyze and work with us.
    LaVarr Webb / The Exoro Group
    10 West 100 South #300 / Salt Lake City UT 84101
    801.537.0900  Office / 801.243.7601 Cell
    lwebb@exoro.com / http://www.utahpolicy.com / http://www.exoro.com

  2. Hi Lynda,
    Thanks for your interest and comment on the initiative.
    Corrections and responses:
    – What about point #2 do you not understand?
    – On your response to point #3, is the world, including the Utah political world, not a different place than it was in 1947?
    – You stated my claim that Utah’s caucus-convention system is the “most restrictive in the nation” is false. I mentioned point #2 to illustrate. So what about point #2 do you not understand?
    – The number of missionaries who want to vote is non-important compared to their freedom to do so. And they could vote via absentee ballot.
    – You mentioned that is is not true that “Count My Vote merely asked that they raised the convention vote threshold to avoid a primary election to between 70 and 80 percent.” That actually is the case. Weeks after the memorandum you posted was sent, it was reported that Count My Vote leadership determined to move forward only after GOP delegates voted at the Utah Republican Party Organizing Convention not to raise the threshold to 70 percent. You must keep up on your news better before making such counterclaims! (Tribune report: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/56330996-90/chair-chairman-county-evans.html.csp Deseret News report: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865579874/Challenge-to-caucus-system-to-dominate-state-GOP-convention.html?pg=all)
    – On your comment about elected delegates, I have not found a report that reveals how many of the same people are being elected delegates year after year. That’s not the issue. The concern is that the people, not matter the face, are not representative of Utah voters. A recent study from BYU (http://utahdatapoints.com/2014/02/on-count-my-vote-who-is-toeing-the-party-line/) shows that only the tea party in Utah wants to keep the status quo. Why would that be the case unless the same perspectives, which are not representative, are found among delegates?
    – Mike Lee did win in a primary election. But how would Utah have voted had Bob Bennett been an option?

    Thank you for reading,


    • John D. Johnson

      Great point Daniel. Thanks for the Disclaimer. Do you have more insight on the “Count My Vote” initiative.

  3. How Daniel is also incorrect in his statement: I once did contract work Utah Policy Daily. Utah Policy Daily is an online publication that is not paid by Count My Vote. Daniel must have meant something else.

  4. Sounds like I hit a note, Rhett? Thanks for coming clean. You took money from CMV? That’s a fact. CMV is the main funder for Exoro which also is the main funder for Utah Policy Daily WHICH (drum roll) Rhett workd for, whether as contract or as employee, it really doesn’t change the conflict.

    If he doesn’t think he has a conflict, that’s fine…but when you go to bat for CMV after having been paid by LaVar Webb it is a bit disingenuous to pretend like you’ve never been influenced by the association or the financial benefit.

    I suggest putting the relationship out there is fair.

    My association? I’m a Republican, a member of the State Central Committee, and that’s it. I’ve received no financial compensation from any individuals, companies, or groups that have ever, to my knowledge, taken a stake, funding, or contract work from any one related to CMV or opposed to CMV.

    As for what I would add to the conversation, I suggest that UtahPoliticoHub.com has got some great commentary, both in favor and in opposition, to County My Vote. I would add it to any thinking voter’s reading list.

  5. Fred C. Cox

    Count My Vote never just demanded a threshold percentage change. They always included one or more items. Such as removing multiple round voting, taking the meeting out of the meeting, making changes to state law, etc. There was always more than one thing.

  6. No note hit, Daniel. This isn’t a matter of “coming clean,” either. I just wanted to make clarifications to your criticisms.
    Yes, I was a project manager for Utah Policy Daily, as stated before the arguments. But CMV money does not necessarily or directly go to Utah Policy Daily.
    “Putting the relationship out there” may be “fair.” And I may have been influenced by the association, but no differently than academics or journalists may influence each other. Thinking can remain independent.
    (As a personal note, I was a bit of a libertarian crusader on the Utah State University campus just last spring, even weeks before starting work for Utah Policy Daily. As a leader in the USU Young Americans for Liberty chapter, I brought Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack and former Utah Libertarian Party Chairman Jake Shannon to campus. Former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright initially agreed to come to discuss commonalities between libertarians and Republicans/conservatives. That experience taught me that pragmatism and cooperation is a much better option in politics. Interestingly, I was then was offered to do some work for Utah Policy Daily, which I accepted over an offer from the well-paying Goldman Sachs.)
    Ironically, Daniel tried to seem more honest than me in disclosing that he is a member of the Utah Republican State Central Committee. But then he gave a recommendation for UtahPoliticoHub.com. You can see on the website that Daniel is promoted on UtahPoliticoHub.com as one of its “politicos.” He may not be getting paid, but he has betrayed his own criticisms of open disclosure.

  7. Ironically, the article Fred Cox linked is a story I wrote (which Fred, by the way, called a “great article,”), so I certainly have some insight there.
    Yes, in their December meeting, the Utah GOP State Central Committee (of which Daniel and Fred are both members) voted to changes to the caucus-convention system. As I wrote, they “voted to allow a caucus attendee to bring same-day ballots to a caucus meeting on behalf of three others.”
    But that wasn’t necessarily under pressure from Count My Vote. As found in the Tribune and Deseret News reports whose links I included in response to Lynda, Count My Vote hoped for a percentage raise in the nomination threshold in advance of the PARTY CONVENTIONS in May (GOP) and June (Democrat). At those events, the parties refused to budge. So Count My Vote moved forward.
    By December, the GOP State Central Committee made changes. By that point, that was more likely in response to polls that showed that Utahns overwhelmingly supported reform to the state’s caucus-convention system. Count My Vote’s momentum may have been a factor, but that resulted from strong citizen support. That was revealed only after Count My Vote moved ahead after state parties were unwilling to make changes way back in May and June.
    On another note, I’m not surprised that Fred made additional comments. Over the past several months, Fred has rather embraced his 1st Amendment rights, having been published by multiple publications. He has posted regularly on his blogs. And under a psedoname “Utah_1,” his writings have been found on at least a dozen websites. Of course, he is running again for House District 30 (he was defeated in the last election cycle after one two-year term). One must wonder if his large-scale efforts against Count My Vote is politically motivated, like Bramble’s is.

    • Rhett, I am pretty offended by your comment. Yes, I purposely linked your article, which you had asked me for information to write.

      I have been actively posting on articles since 2008 while helping Jason Chaffetz and writing actively on this subject since the fall of 2010 long before I had the chance to serve in the House.

      CMV, as proposed prior to this latest Lexus Lane to the ballot for the rich and famous, favored those with Name ID. Since I have greater name ID in my area than many that would run against me, and the neighborhood caucus and convention system allows anyone to run and win, even without name ID, supporting the neighborhood caucus and convention system is likely not to help me win.