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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Votes are counted during a GOP caucus meeting at Lone Peak High School in Highland. Thousands turned out at their Republican Party neighborhood caucus meetings around Utah, Thursday, March 15, 2012.

I attended my first caucus meeting at age 18. Not knowing what to expect, I simply went because my parents had invited me. Even after the nominations had started, my dad was explaining the role of a delegate. Before I knew it, my name was on the board. My speech went something like this, "I don't know much about this, but I want to learn and I want to be involved." To my amazement, I was selected from a large list of more qualified people. I didn't realize how lucky I was. I was a county delegate the year of open U.S. Senate and governor seats and a presidential election. It was an amazing experience. An 18-year-old boy from Vernal had the chance to meet many of Utah's most prominent Republicans. I was very grateful and promised myself that I would continue to be involved. This experience helped me appreciate Utah's caucus system. Reflecting since then, I have come to understand the greatest benefits of this system.

For one, it is a balanced approach to representation. Although we often claim to be a democracy, a straight democracy always risks the public's short attention span. Most of us are not interested in nor have time to learn about all of the issues all of the time. With too many decisions to make, the general public becomes overwhelmed and eventually apathetic. Therefore, we select representatives to study and discuss the decisions and delegate authority to them. This causes a dilemma. Representatives don't always represent the population well. Therefore, the representatives' decisions don't always reflect the desires of the population majority. This builds the argument for a direct vote; a straight democracy. Our caucus system, like our government, attempts to balance these two concepts. Representatives make a large number of decisions, relieving the general public of being overburdened. The general public becomes directly involved when there is lack of consensus, a large interest or significant impact. The tipping point can be debated, but the concept works well. In the candidate selection process, every office has multiple (even 10) nominees across three levels of government. The number can be staggering. The general public simply cannot and will not become fairly informed on all of these. But, if neighbors got together and selected a group to study the many nominees and narrow them down to a few, then the public would have a better chance of making good decisions.

Good citizenship is more than just a vote. I learned more about being a good citizen from that experience than from my civics classes. Citizenship is more than just checking some boxes. It requires research and thought, effort and time. It requires volunteering, even out of the limelight. Citizenship requires talking to neighbors face-to-face and discussing similarities and differences. Citizenship allows me to be involved, have a say, and make a difference without a specific degree or pedigree. Citizenship even requires meetings with long speeches. It requires listening to other's opinions and ideas. Citizenship is hard work, but that is what makes it great. Because, what we sacrifice for, we value the most.

I am part of a precinct. I was lucky enough to make it to my caucus meeting that night, but that's not always the case. As a delegate, I felt the awesome responsibility of representing all my neighbors. A country is only as strong as its smallest division, and outside of the family, it's our neighborhoods. This is where we should be discussing policies, sharing values and generating our nation's greatest ideas. These neighborhoods are what the caucuses are based on. Not just one night a year, but consistently. We can vote, poll, and survey across the universe, but until we start talking to our neighbors, we are just islands of our own making.

I will ever be grateful for that simple night, for my parents and for my fellow precinct members who gave me a chance to learn.

Thomas Rust is an engineer from Box Elder County.