Once closed off and isolated, the estimated 37,000 members of Utah's polygamist communities could become the next voting bloc for candidates to try to capture.
A voter guide is being circulated in polygamist circles, detailing the candidates in this year's election and where they stand on issues such as ethics and equality.
"We feel like this is our time," said Carlene Cannon, a member of the Davis County Cooperative Society (also known as the Kingston group), who helped create the 12-page newsletter. "We feel like it's really important that we are engaged in the laws that are being made."
Principle Voices, a nonprofit pro-polygamy group, said "Communities in Harmony" does not necessarily reflect its political stance, but director Mary Batchelor penned a column encouraging fundamentalists to lobby lawmakers and vote.
"If we fail to do this, we have only ourselves to blame for laws and policies which fail to meet our needs, or which may even be injurious to us," she wrote.
Members of Utah's polygamist communities have become increasingly united and vocal in recent years against perceived attacks on their lifestyle. Their numbers could impact an election: An unofficial census by Principle Voices counts 37,000 people in Utah and surrounding states who self-identify as fundamentalists.
Cannon said she has seen more and more members of her community register to vote in recent years.
"I know that we have a big enough voting bloc to get candidates into office and vote them out of office," she said.
The voter guide covers state offices, congress, judges and even the presidential race. Candidates were ranked on campaign ethics and "equal civil rights" for people in polygamous cultures.
Principle Voices' Anne Wilde made some candidate calls to compile the survey, with surprising results.
"I found that out of 15 that I talked to in person, 12 of them were in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing plural marriage," she said Friday.
Some candidates did not respond or refused to participate. Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff missed a deadline to reply. The newsletter gave its endorsement to his opponent, Democrat Jean Welch Hill.
Hill's campaign would not make her available for comment Friday but put out a statement criticizing Shurtleff for failing to "end the systemic nature of these crimes in some polygamous communities."
"Instead, he has demonized all polygamists by repeatedly comparing them to the cosa nostra, or Italian mafia," she wrote. "These comments are counterproductive because they make it more difficult to obtain the critically most important cooperation of those not engaged in the most heinous criminal activity."
Hill said she would reduce the rhetoric and increase convictions. Shurtleff, whose office created the Safety Net Committee that works with closed societies to help abuse victims, defended his efforts to prosecute crimes within polygamy.
"I've heard from a number of polygamists. ... It's not their endorsement," he said Friday. "We've had so much success in the area of prosecuting crimes, in bringing services and protection to members of polygamous sects through the Safety Net. Absolutely, I'm proud of that."
Cannon acknowledged not everyone agreed on the attorney general's endorsement.
"People from different communities have different feelings on that," she said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some judges involved in polygamy-related cases did not earn Communities in Harmony's endorsement. Judge Andrew Valdez, who handled a child custody case involving the Kingstons, got a "no" vote. So did Judge Denise Lindberg, who is overseeing the United Effort Plan Trust, the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real-estate arm.
The endorsements do not speak for all polygamist communities or even the individuals in them, Cannon said.
"It's the sole responsibility of the editor," she said.The newsletter includes a letter from the FLDS Church, thanking the other polygamous groups for their support in the aftermath of the raid on the YFZ Ranch in Texas. The raid has become a political rallying cry some members of the FLDS Church even registered to vote in Schleicher County, Texas.
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