Party caucuses starting soon
March is a busy time for Utah Republicans and Democrats. In the course of a week after a 45-day legislative session capped off with a final marathon day, legislators will go back to their constituents for neighborhood caucuses, with state and county conventions taking place several weeks after that.
With the candidate filing window taking place from March 14-20, the Summit County Democratic Party is set to hold its neighborhood caucuses March 18, while the Republican Party has its caucuses scheduled for March 20.
"The caucus process is somewhat unique to Utah," said Summit County Democratic Party Chair Glenn Wright. "The Democratic caucuses are open to anybody. Anyone can vote – we don’t check registration. They just have to say they’re participating as a Democrat."
"[The caucus] allows us to vote those people in that we want in our neighborhoods that can represent us at conventions," said Summit County Republican Party Chair Tal Adair. "It enables all of us to vote and it doesn’t toss [around] a lot of money."
The primary purpose of the county caucuses and conventions is for candidates to secure the votes of delegates needed for their party’s nomination. Delegates are elected at neighborhood caucuses and those delegates go on to vote for candidates at the convention.
Depending on the party’s bylaws, which are different for each county, a candidate must secure a certain percentage of delegate votes (usually between 60 and 70 percent) to gain the party’s nomination and avoid a primary.
In Summit County, there are 45 precincts. Two delegates per precinct can potentially go to convention for the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party brings one from each precinct. Because of redistricting that occurred after the 2010 Census, each precinct has to vote in one single House and Senate district.
The Democratic Party also makes all of its party’s county positions automatic delegates, including department heads and Council members. That means, Wright said, there could be as many as 99 delegates, although there are some smaller precincts whose delegates may not show up to convention.
The Republican Party’s caucus, although it is only open to registered Republicans, also offers pre-registration. Delegates can be nominated from the floor and individuals also have the ability to nominate themselves, as well as be nominated by neighbors.
Several candidates in both parties have announced their intent to run for several federal, state and county positions, and Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds (R) and County Auditor Blake Frazier (D) have declared they will not seek re-election.
"I had four people contact me who were interested in the auditor’s position," Wright said. "That will probably be whittled down as we go along."
Adair said he has been trying to get people within the party to vie for the auditor position but is unclear who, if anyone will run as a Republican.
Wright, who will run against 54th District Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber City) this November, said there are no frontrunners to campaign against 53rd District Rep. Melvin Brown (R-Coalville), although he said one individual did express interest should no other candidates come forth.
Both parties will have alternate delegates for the county and state conventions, should there be delegates who are unable to attend. The Democratic and Republican state conventions are both set for April 26.
For the state conventions, the Democratic Party will have 81 delegates, three of whom are automatic from the Party Chair and Vice Chair. The Republican Party this year will have 47 delegates for the state convention, down from the prior number of 54.
"The [Republican] Party decided they’d go with the Republican strength formula so those people who actually got out and voted showed up," Adair said. "We’re trying to get it down to the grassroots and allow each precinct to be represented in a formal manner."
Adair and Wright gave their thoughts on the future impacts of SB54, the Count My Vote "compromise bill" which will allow candidates to get on a party’s primary ballot by gathering a certain amount of signatures starting in 2016. It will also require a party to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in its party primary in order to be a "certified political party."
"[SB54] gives another venue for those that think they want to run in a primary. Is it fair? We’ll see. I personally think some of the bill is unconstitutional, the sponsors of it even said as much," Adair said.
"I don’t think [SB54] will increase participation," Wright said. "The thing that will increase participation is more close races. That means less gerrymandering."
For more information on both parties as well as their caucuses and conventions, visit:
The Summit County Republican Party will hold its neighborhood caucuses on March 20 and its county convention on April 3. The Summit County Democratic Party will hold its neighborhood caucuses on March 18 and its county convention on March 29.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.