Turnout low at Summit County’s Democratic caucuses
March 23, 2018
Sharon Matt became a citizen of the United States nearly a decade ago and waited several more years before she finally exercised her right to vote. The former Canadian citizen realized she had an opinion about the way her new country was being run and chose to become more involved in the election process.
Matt, who lives in Trailside, began regularly attending the Summit County Democratic Party's neighborhood caucuses about six years ago. She quickly volunteered to serve as a delegate at the state convention, a role she proudly sought again Tuesday during the Democratic caucus at Ecker Hill Middle School.
"I love it," Matt said. "All those years of living here and not being able to vote. I really care about this and want to make sure we don't vote for the wrong people."
Matt was one of about 100 Summit County Democrats who attended the caucuses on Tuesday, according to Cheryl Butler, Summit County Democratic Party chair. A majority of the people — about 75 — attended the caucus at Ecker Hill Middle School, while the others were held at South Summit High School and North Summit High School. Caucuses provide an opportunity for voters to meet the party's candidates, learn about their platforms and select delegates for the upcoming county and state Democratic conventions.
"It's an opportunity for us to get together and get this information out," said Lee McGee, a Democratic Party state committeeman. "Caucuses are to figure out who the hardcore Democrats are and build contacts within the organization."
As expected, the crowds were thinner than they were two years ago during the presidential race, even with several county, state and federal seats on the November ballot.
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Gone were the long lines of people stretched out the door and excitement from first-time caucus goers. But, Butler said the turnout was nor surprising.
"It was definitely much lower than what we saw in 2016," she said. "But, that is to be expected. I'm a realist and did not expect people to turnout in larger numbers when we don't have a presidential vote."
While two seats on the Summit County Council and four department head positions are up for election, no one filed as a candidate to challenge the incumbents. Summit County Councilors Chris Robinson and Glenn Wright, along with Sheriff Justin Martinez, County Attorney Margaret Olson, and Auditor Michael Howard, all Democrats, attended Tuesday's caucus even though their races are uncontested.
"People like to have the opportunity to vote on something and where they have that opportunity we do see larger turnouts," Butler said. "It might not have been significantly higher if those races were contested, but it probably would have had an effect."
Wright, a County Council member and former chair of the county Democratic Party, said the small candidate field elicited a mixed reaction from him.
"Personally, I was very happy because I won't have to spend my own money and time to campaign for re-election," he said. "But, it isn't really a good thing for the county because now we are not going to be talking about county issues during the election. I will still go out and hold public meetings and will campaign with the legislative candidates, but democracy needs some competition."
Butler said the contested races at the state and federal level are "certainly generating a lot of excitement" among the delegates going to Salt Lake City for the state convention.
Parkite Eileen Gallagher, who filed to run for the Utah Senate seat Kevin Van Tassell currently holds, attended the caucus, along with Christopher Neville, who is vying for the seat Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, occupies, and Roberto M. Lopez, a candidate for Rep. Tim Quinn's House seat. The candidates discussed climate change, Medicaid expansion, economics and gun rights, with several of their comments winning applause from the audience.
The caucuses are the first step in the election process. The Summit County Democratic and Republican parties will next hold their respective conventions. The Democratic convention is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Park City High School.
Peggy Stuart, a Summit Park resident, said she has been attending the caucuses in Summit County with her husband, Charles, since moving to Utah in 2010.
"I do it because I think as citizens of this country we are responsible," she said. "If we don't pay attention with what is going on and take an active role, even if it is a small one, then what our forefathers built is going to crumble away."