Turnout ‘tremendous’ for the Summit County Democrats’ call-in caucus, influencing two County Council races
Voters heading to the polls in November will see three Democratic options for three Summit County Council seats, almost certainly assuring the body will remain unanimously Democratic.
The real race for the candidates in the two contested races, then, is getting their name on the November ballot, something that will be decided in a June primary or, if candidates get enough delegate support, at the Democratic county convention next week.
That raised the stakes for the Summit County Democratic Party caucus, which on Tuesday decided the roughly 100 people who will vote at the county convention and was held remotely for the first time due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meredith Reed is the chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and she reported some ups and downs with the unprecedented call-in caucus, but that overall it was a success and the party might want to use some aspects of the system in the future.
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“Turnout was tremendous,” Reed said. “We were blown away. … We had lots of people saying thank you.”
More than 400 people registered to participate in the caucus, more than 200 indicated interest in serving as a delegate for their respective precincts and 340 called in Tuesday to vote for a delegate to represent their neighborhood at the county convention.
There are 45 voting precincts in Summit County and two people are selected from each to serve as voting delegates at the county convention, scheduled to take place on Thursday. The precincts are geographically bound and roughly correspond to neighborhoods. For each area that had more than two people interested in becoming a delegate, voters were asked to list their preferences in a ranked-choice voting process.
That led to a long night of vote tabulating, Reed said. Once the dust settled, 104 people had been selected as delegates — 82 precinct delegates and 22 publicly elected officials and party officeholders.
Since no Republicans are running for county elected office, there will only be Democratic names on the ballot, barring a write-in candidacy. Summit County Republicans canceled their caucus and county convention, chair Jennifer McDonald said.
There are five people running for three County Council seats: Council Chair Doug Clyde is running unopposed; Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners Malena Stevens and Canice Harte are vying for the seat currently held by Kim Carson, who is retiring; and two-term County Councilor Roger Armstrong is running against newcomer Jill Fellow.
Clyde is virtually assured of his party’s nomination. The other two races would go to a June 30 primary unless one of the candidates gets 60% of the vote at the county convention.
That would mean a threshold of 63 of the 104 delegates, but Reed said there will likely be fewer than 100 delegates who vote. The threshold is 60% of voters, not of total delegates.
The four candidates received a list at noon on Monday of the 410 people who had registered to participate in the caucus. In the end, those people selected 82 delegates from the more than 200 who had indicated interest in serving. In years past, the candidates would travel to three county caucus sites — one each in Park City, North Summit and South Summit — and deliver short speeches to each precinct. This year, that couldn’t happen, and the candidates had limited time to make their pitches.
Reed noted a truncated calendar was not set by the county party, with the deadline to file for office being Thursday, March 19, and the caucus the following Tuesday.
Stevens said the constraints on the caucus made it more challenging to interact with individual members of each precinct.
“Emails and phone calls became even more critical components of the campaign with the virtual caucus and will continue to be as we move forward to the Democratic Convention,” Stevens wrote in an email.
Harte said that, while he was making as many phone calls as he could, the abbreviated schedule increased his reliance on friends and family to help communicate his message to potential delegates.
Armstrong said he had some late nights trying to communicate with his fellow Democrats, estimating he wrote 350 or 400 emails over four days.
Fellow took a more hands-off approach, saying the change motivated her to spread a message of community engagement and that the unusual circumstances might bring more voices to the table.
“At some point, telling people which neighbor to vote for just seemed like interfering with community engagement,” Fellow wrote in an email. “I was hoping neighbors would call each other and talk about the issues.”
It appears the convention will go ahead as scheduled on April 2, Reed said, though exactly how that will happen has yet to be determined.
She said she’d like to run the convention in a similar way as the caucus, with people calling in, but that presents logistical challenges like how to keep votes anonymous. She also noted the county party has less control over how to run the convention, taking cues from the state party. She said it appears likely convention voting will be done by mail.
Though the caucus was grueling for executive committee members, Reed said there were some benefits to the change. For one, it increased access for those who couldn’t spend multiple hours in a school gymnasium on a weeknight. Another benefit was that people announced their intention to run as delegates before the day of the caucus, potentially allowing others in their neighborhood to weigh their choices more carefully.
“We’ve really tried hard to make it as accessible as possible,” Reed said.
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