In even-numbered years, each political party holds hundreds of neighborhood meetings of its members all across the state, all on a single night, and all at the same time. At these neighborhood caucuses, attendees elect a small slate of delegates from each caucus who then attend the political party's biennial convention.
At the convention, these chosen delegates vote on the party's nominee for each public office, such as county councilor, state legislator or governor.
If any candidate receives 60 percent of the delegate vote on the day of the convention (in some counties the figure is 70 percent), that person immediately becomes the party's sole nominee for that office.
If no candidate achieves 60 percent delegate support at the convention, the top two candidates advance to a public primary election before the voters at large. This rule means that the vast majority of candidates in Utah never face the voters in a party primary election, because they consistently achieve the 60 percent delegate threshold vote at every convention.
Many observers have criticized the caucus/convention process as unwieldy, inconvenient and exclusionary for the general public. These critics also argue that the current system makes Utah public officials beholden only to the convention delegates rather than to the broader electorate.
When the Count My Vote proposal was unveiled nearly 2 years ago, it merely sought to supplement the current caucus/convention system with an additional, alternate route for candidates to appear on the primary election ballot. But when the initiative petition was officially filed last September, it instead proposed eliminating the caucus/convention nomination system entirely and replacing it with a single primary election required for all candidates, regardless of the outcome of the convention.
Backers of the initiative have until April 15 to gather approximately 100,000 signatures in 26 of 29 Utah Senate districts in order to place the proposal on this November's general election ballot.
Utah State Senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has introduced a bill to counter Count My Vote.
Under Bramble's bill, if the political parties enact reforms to make their caucuses and conventions more flexible and inclusive, they would not be subject to the Count My Vote initiative, even if the initiative is approved by the voters. If the parties do not adopt the reforms, then the direct primary called for in Count My Vote would become the law.
Many critics have called Bramble's bill an effort to gut the Count My Vote initiative even before it is voted on or takes effect. Nevertheless, the bill moved through the Senate quickly and passed that body with an overwhelming majority. It now awaits action by the House.
Utah legislative leaders have been negotiating with leaders of Count My Vote for several weeks to head off a constitutional confrontation between Bramble's bill and the initiative petition. This past weekend, the various players reached a compromise. Under the deal, the political parties must appoint alternate delegates to serve as backups at the party conventions, must allow unaffiliated voters to vote in their primaries, and, most importantly, must allow candidates to appear on the primary ballot either by gathering signatures or through the traditional convention process.
In other words, if a candidate gathers the required number of signatures (for example, 28,000 for Governor or 7,000 for Congress) he or she can force a primary election and appear on the primary ballot, regardless of the caucus and convention outcome.
I support this legislative compromise that has been reached between the two factions, because I believe there are advantages to both the caucus system and direct primaries. The caucus process allows people the opportunity to get directly involved and research the candidates and ask them questions face-to-face.
The primary election process ensures that voters have the ultimate say in choosing our nominees.
The new alternative route to the primary ballot will keep public officials responsive to all their constituents rather than just to the party delegates.