This week, hundreds of Summit County residents turned out to party neighborhood caucuses to get directly involved with the political process. Kicking off the 2014 election season, voters in each precinct met in the Park City, North Summit and Summit areas to choose their state and county delegates for the upcoming conventions.
The 2014 election season represents the last year of the traditional caucus/convention process with the recent passage of SB54, the Count My Vote "compromise bill" which will allow candidates to get on a party's primary ballot by obtaining a certain number of signatures instead of gaining the approval of delegates.
Summit County Democratic Party Chair Glenn Wright believes 2014 is going to be a good year for the Democrats.
"We lost a few races last year by less than 100 votes," Wright said. "If we get out of super-minority status in the [State] Legislature, we're going to start making some waves in the state."
Tuesday's neighborhood caucuses for the county Democratic Party were held at PCHS, North Summit Middle School and South Summit High School.
Many of the precinct members who attended said they felt a great desire to get involved in their communities and the political process, including Cathy Martone from the Pinebrook North precinct.
"I recruited volunteers for the 2012 Obama campaign," Martone said. "That whole experience was life-changing and I decided to get involved at a more local level."
Jill Lesh from the Old Town South precinct moved to Park City two years ago from Indiana and said she got involved with the county Democratic Party when she realized her precinct had no chair.
"My passion is participatory government. Everyone should be involved at whatever level they can," Lesh said. "We need to recognize that our vote makes a difference in the quality of life that we have."
Lesh added that there are enough registered Democratic voters in the 54th District to elect Wright, it's just a matter of getting them out to vote.
Christian Hague, a county government watchdog who is from the Highland Estates East precinct, said he is involved with the caucus/convention process because he cares.
"For the county, the issues as I see them are protecting our quality of life and protecting the wildlife," Hague said. "Unfortunately, our County Council wants to put economic development ahead of what all the residents say is important."
On the East Side, however, Hague said economic development is probably one of the most important issues. On the state level, he expressed concern with many Utah politicians' desires to take control of federal lands.
Citing a "lack of participation" in the last election on the part of Summit County Republican precinct members, the party's state leadership cut the county's number of delegate precincts to 24, combining some. Party Chair Tal Adair said this is called the "Republican strength model."
Thursday's neighborhood caucuses were held at PCHS, South Summit Middle School and North Summit High School. At the PCHS caucus, county GOP Vice Chair Sue Pollard facilitated the voting.
Diane Livingston of the North Pinebrook precinct was in attendance and said she was a state delegate last election, but added she could be either a county or state delegate this year. She expressed passion for the political process.
"We have a voice, so we should use our voice," Livingston said. "It wasn't hard to be a delegate and actually be a part of the process."
Howard Edwards and Julie McFadden both came from the Thaynes precinct.
"If you don't like what happens in your city, county, state or country, [you should] take part," McFadden said.
On the subject of SB54, Edwards said he thinks the bill was a "good settlement," and McFadden said that if a candidate is willing to go out into the community and obtain thousands of signatures, it means they are "willing to work."
Livingston said she thinks SB54 will help increase voter participation, adding, "I think a majority of people don't come [to caucuses]. When you have different avenues for people to get involved, it will increase the likelihood that people will get involved."
Pollard, however, doesn't like SB54 or the idea of a candidate being able to get on a party's primary ballot without attending conventions.
Wright said the Democratic caucuses had 181 participants, while data is still being worked out for Republican caucus attendance numbers, Adair said.
With county and state delegates having been voted in for each party, county conventions are next. The Democrats will hold theirs on Saturday, March 29, at 4 p.m. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church while the Republicans will hold theirs on Thursday, April 3, at 6 p.m. at South Summit High School, having changed the location from PCHS.
To become the party nominee, a candidate will have to secure 65 percent of the delegate vote at convention to get on the ballot and avoid a primary election in the Democratic Party, while that threshold is 60 percent for the Republican Party.