The last few weeks of tumult in Washington, D.C., have raised a lot of concerns about the polarization of our current political climate. And at least one group in Utah is blaming the problem on the state's caucus system, which allows a small group of delegates to winnow their party's final candidates before opening the process to the general public.
Count My Vote Utah is spearheading an effort to repeal the caucus system and replace it with direct primaries. It is currently hosting a series of public meetings after which it will launch an initiative petition. According to the website countmyvoteutah.org, the bipartisan group needs to gather 102,000 signatures in order to put the measure on the November ballot in 2014.
One salient example of the caucus system at work took place in 2010 when incumbent Utah Senator Robert Bennett, considered a moderate Republican, was ousted at the state convention by the upstart Tea Party candidate Mike Lee. Lee then swept past his Democratic challenger in the General Election and has been making headlines ever since as one of the hard-line conservatives who successfully shut down the federal government last week.
Some still wonder what the outcome might have been if regular citizens had been able to choose between all of that year's Republican candidates in an open primary.
Utah is one of only seven states that still rely on the caucus system in which delegates are handpicked to vote at each party's county and state convention. Since most voters don't attend their neighborhood caucuses, and therefore don't have a hand in picking their delegates, the ballot is often determined before they even know who the candidates are.
At worst, the current process is ripe for manipulation by special interests who are keenly aware of the need to seed the caucus with supporters. At best, it fosters extreme viewpoints by giving minority opinions more weight.
The caucus system doesn't just affect federal politics. It influences Summit County's partisan races as well and next year will be an important one at the county level where two seats on the council and all seven department head posts will be up for election. Under the current caucus format, the ballot could be settled by the delegates who are nominated at the neighborhood caucuses before voters get their first campaign leaflet.
To learn more about the Count My Vote Utah initiative go to: countmyvoteutah.org