Utah's Count My Vote initiative looks for traction
Is Utah's electoral process for picking candidates for election one of the worst in the country?
Supporters of the Count My Vote initiative which was launched last week think so. They point to lower voter turnout than a few years ago, marginalized populations and the fact that a minority of people can put candidates on the ballot that few people would vote for in a general primary as the reasons they want to see things changed.
And they are looking for signatures.
The leadership of the initiative movement looks like a Who's Who of past political campaigns, and they are not all of one party either. Former Governors Mike Leavitt and Norm Bangerter are joining the likes of ex-first-lady-of-the-state Norma Matheson, and Mayors Ben McAdams (Salt Lake County) and Ralph Becker (Salt Lake City) as mainstays in the progress of this initiative.
They and other supporters of the change need to collect 102,000 signatures by April 15 of next year if they hope to get the initiative on the ballot in November of 2014.
If the initiative were to pass it would mean big changes to how candidates are selected for county, state and federal offices.
Presently the state uses a caucus and convention system. Every two years caucuses are held in precincts where delegates to the party conventions are picked. These delegates then attend conventions at both the county and state level and vote on candidates to run in elections. A candidate must get 60 percent of the delegate vote to go on the ballot for the general or final election against other parties or independent candidates. If they don't get 60 percent then a runoff primary is held to decide who will go onto the election. That primary is based on the votes the top two candidates got from delegates.
Initiative supporter see this as unfair to most of the population. They say that a small minority of politically active people can put candidates on the ballot that most would not vote for if they had more of a choice. They say in this way a party can be hijacked.
Under the initiative proposal a person who wants to appear on a primary ballot would have to get two percent of the registered voters signatures within the boundaries of the political subdivision to be put directly onto a primary ballot as a member of a party or an independent.
How the idea of doing away with conventions and caucuses flies differently with various people around eastern Utah.
"I worry that a move like that might hurt the little guy who wants to be a candidate," said State Senator David Hinkins of District 27. "It would be the ones that could afford the advertising, the television ads that would win. It would take away the chance for the common person to be put into office."
Joe Piccolo, the Mayor of Price, who ran for a Carbon County Commission seat but lost in convention feels differently.
"We need to re invite the public back into the electorate," he said. "I am sick of having people represent us who were put into office by a small minority of people who go to a caucus or a convention. Both Mike Lee and John Swallow are where they are because of that. The political system needs to represent middle American voters. An overhaul of the system is overdue."
Carbon County Republican Chair Pete Yakovich thinks such a move would be a bad idea.
"The caucus system is an active representation of our government," he said. "I think it would be a bad thing because it would open the door for those with better funding."
Yakovich said that the state Republican Central Committee had met not long ago and discussed the possibility of raising the percentage of what a candidate would have to get to pass by a primary. Presently it is 60 percent of the convention vote.
"We talked about raising it, but realized it would have not made that much difference in most races," he said. "I think doing what the Count My Vote Initiative proposes would complicate the process."
He also said that he thought the change would have little affect on local politics but would affect statewide elections and certainly federally elected positions.
The Deseret News reported on Sept. 22 that questions about how to combat the Count My Vote Initiative were raised at a Republican Central Committee meeting that was held in Bountiful on Sept. 21. The report said that Republicans were divided on how to proceed in stopping the measure, but had largely agreed something needed to be done. One of the points brought up in the meeting concerned the negative impact such an initiative would have on rural areas. The story said that GOP Vice Chairman Willie Billings, the former Washington County Republican Party chairman has the infrastructure to stall signature-gathering in rural areas of the state.
Jason Llewellyn, Carbon County Democratic Chair also commented on the issue as well.
"I see the merits of where that kind of a move could be useful for those that cannot attend caucus'," said Llewellyn. "But at this point I think the caucus system is better. However I could see some kind of hybrid system as working, but if we are going to do that we need to change the system of election from the grass roots right up to the top of the federal government. But most of all, right now as it exists, citizens just need to get involved in the electoral process."