Count Your Vote proponents state their case in Price, but face opposition from caucus advocates
The Count My Vote initiative for Utah got off to a start in Carbon County on Thursday night as proponents of the proposed change presented their case to a small group of people at the Jennifer Leavitt Student Center on the USU Eastern Campus.
In the initiative process, the proponents must hold public meetings around the state to let citizens know what they are proposing.
One of the intents of the change, they say, is to increase the number of voters that come to the polls each year. Utah's voting numbers have fallen drastically in the last 50 years. In 1960, over 78 percent of registered voters went to the polls. In 2012, only 57 percent cast a ballot, ranking Utah 39th nationally in voter turnout.
"We are here because we want to increase voter representation," said Lindsey Zizumbo one of the Executive Directors of the Count My Vote movement.
Unfortunately only 16 people showed up to the meeting from the two-county area. And many of them came because they seemed opposed to the idea of the change being made.
The meeting went on with Zizumbo and Aaron Walker, another proponent of the change giving a PowerPoint presentation on the differences between the way Utah currently selects its candidates (for a primary if needed and the for the general election) and what the new proposal would do to alter that.
The initiative is set to change the entire power structure of the caucus and convention system, and put more emphasis on primary elections, which the supporters feel would then limit the power of a few and give it to the many.
Under the proposal, a candidate who wanted to run for a statewide or federal race would have to get two percent of his or her registered party members to sign a petition supporting their candidacy to get into a primary. Political parties would still be able to hold their caucus' and conventions, and they could, if they choose, endorse one or more of those candidates from their party to the voters as they go to the primary polls. However the parties would not be in control of who is on the primary ballot as they have been in the past.
The presenters listed the good things about caucus system including the fact it gives delegates direct contact with those who are running, it prevents candidates from "flying over" counties with smaller populations and it generally maintains a parties platform and it limits the influence of money on candidates. This final reason is one of the biggest arguments opponents have against the proposal. They say that in a primary only system the people that have the most money, the most financial backing, are the ones that would win. They feel that the grassroots candidates would not have a chance.
However the presenters parried that argument with what they say are statistics that prove money already controls the caucus system.
"Last year in the Republican caucus and convention system $6.5 million were spent on advertising and presenting the candidates to the delegates," said Walker. "There were 2,483 delegates at the convention. This means that there was $2,786 spent on each delegate."
However, Jerry Stotler who was in attendance told the group the figures presented were misleading.
"That counts in all the television and media advertising that is done," he said. "That was not what was spent on just delegates but for all advertising."
The presenters also pointed out that Utah is the only state still using a system that was invented back in the 1800s. Most states did away with or modified the caucus-convention system many years ago.
Jim Darter took issue with that statement.
"Just because we do things differently than others doesn't mean it is wrong," he stated. "Look how often Utah is ranked as one of the best run states. That's because of that system."
The presenters also pointed out what they feel are some other flaws in the present system. They included that the only way delegates get selected to the state conventions is from the one meeting caucus which can preclude those who couldn't come to the meeting that night for work reasons, family obligations or by being out of town. They also pointed out because the system works the way it does Utah's elected leaders are more concerned with making policies supported by party delegates than policies supported by Utahns overall.
They also feel that activists, who are the ones that often attend the caucus' have different priorities than the average Utahn.
After the presentation the program was opened up for comments. Those comments ran the gamut from those who liked the idea to those that are fiercely opposed to it.
"I have seen caucus' railroad because only eight people showed up," said one woman. "I am for the change."
Stotler, however disagreed. He said his experience shows him that the present system is the best one Utah could have.
"I lived in California for a long time and I never got a choice on who I could vote for," he said. "In the caucus system everyone knows each other. They know their neighbors. The primary system can be affected by fraud."
Darter also said that he was wary of such a proposal because he sees the caucus system as the best way to find out about candidates.
"In the caucus system the candidates get vetted by those at the caucus questioning them," he stated. "Is this going to be any better."
One man even stated that for years he never even knew there was a caucus system in the state.
After the meeting there were many discussions about the initiative. A few in the audience approached the presenters about being active in the campaign to get signatures on the petition.
Walker explained to a small group after the meeting that the supporters need 102,000 signatures by April in order to get the measure on the ballot.
"But we are actually looking for about 130,000 because in petition drives there are often duplicate signatures, signatures of people who are eligible to sign the petition and other problems," he stated.