Washington County Republican vice chair Willie Billings and I agree on a lot of things. We love our country and our community. We believe in limited government and the principles of self-reliance. We both value our membership in the Republican Party.
But on Utah's caucus-convention system, we disagree. I support Count My Vote because I believe every Utahn deserves a voice in electing public officials.
Utah's current system — which excludes many in the military, first responders, those on service or religious missions, business travelers and parents (generally women) who care for sick children or elderly parents — is just too restrictive for today's complex lifestyles. It alienates the very people it purports to serve, and I fear it's not reaching Utah's rising generation.
I have lots of concerns with Utah's current election system, and one of them is money. Too much money is directed toward too few people. Last year, Republican statewide candidates spent $6.5 million in caucuses to win the votes of 2,483 delegates. That's $2,618 per vote! Even if that amount doubled in a primary election system, it would amount to less than $15 per voter. I'm much more comfortable with that.
Another concern I have is the characterization that Utah voters are "uneducated" or "uniformed" and need someone else to vote on their behalf. Nonsense! That's not the Utah voter I know. Utahns will make wise decisions for themselves if given the opportunity. We just have to give people a chance.
I'm also concerned about rural representation. When I served as governor and lieutenant governor, I traveled to every corner of this state. I learned about the unique challenges faced by every Utah resident, particularly those in rural Utah. There are more than 390,000 rural voters, but only 1,100 rural delegates. This doesn't make sense to me when every one of the 390,000 rural voters could have a voice. A direct primary system will give every rural voter a voice.
Utah used to be in the top five states for voter participation. Now we are in the bottom 10. That's wrong. And it's not the Utah I know — a state that with a high rate of volunteerism that gives so generously of their time and resources for the common good.
Every state has modernized their election system to account for changing demographics and lifestyles. Utah now has the most restrictive election process in the nation. It's time to change. Our system must adapt and improve. It's time to rally for voter participation by supporting Count My Vote.
I strongly believe that everyone has a right to express their opinions and vote for the candidates of their choice. Elections should not be restrictive. Count My Vote will make elections inclusive, not exclusive. Decisions will be made with everyone's input, not the input of a few behind closed doors. LDS missionaries, military service men and women, first responders and others who can't make it to a caucus meeting deserve the right to be heard. It's time to count every vote.
Olene S. Walker was Utah's 15th governor. She served as Utah's lieutenant governor and state election officer for more than 10 years and served in the Legislature from 1980 until 1988.