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Caucus 101: Understanding Utah's mass meetings

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 2:04 p.m. MST

Crowds of people fill out precinct forms, paw over piles of political pamphlets and get informed at a Republican caucus meeting at the North Davis Preparatory Academy in Layton Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY  — Mysterious, misunderstood and sparsely attended, GOP and Democratic precinct caucus meetings will be held across the state this week in homes, schools and other public places to elect delegates for county and state conventions.

A concentrated push by both parties, special interest groups and a call by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to attend the meetings is likely to bolster participation this year, both by political diehards and fresh faces angling to support their candidates.

In advance of those precinct meetings next week, here is a basic guide to understanding Utah's unique caucus system, and links for more information.

When are the caucus meetings?

Democrats will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Republicans meet at 7 p.m. Thursday.

How do I find out where my caucus meeting is being held?

Both political parties offer a search on their websites: www.utgop.org and utahdemocrats.org. In addition, the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office — the state administrative agency over elections — offers vote.utah.gov as a way to find out specific locations of meetings. County clerks' offices can also help you.

Caucus meetings are divided by neighborhoods set apart by precinct numbers. So what happens if I don't know my precinct number?

The search options at the above-listed websites allow you to find out the caucus meeting location by submitting your name and address.

What is a delegate and how many are there?

Delegates elected at caucus meetings attend party conventions and cast votes to select candidates to run in primary and general elections. State delegates have a voice in picking candidates for statewide offices, legislative districts that cross county lines and Congressional offices. County delegates are confined to casting ballots for county offices. The state Republican Party elects up to 4,000 state delegates and Utah's Democratic Party elects up to 2,700 state delegates.

How many people attend these caucus meetings and how long do they last?

It varies. Depending on the interest and the precinct, there may be just a handful of people attending, or 100. Meetings generally end within two hours. Arrive a little early.

How do I get elected a delegate?

Become familiar with the issues, the candidates and list a few reasons why you'd like to run. Bring friends and family who support you. You might have to give a speech explaining why you should be elected. You may want to call your precinct chair — that information is listed on precinct information sites — and ask for advice and let them know you want to run. You have to be nominated by a neighbor, relative or friend — or you can nominate yourself.

Why would I want to be a delegate?

Advocates of the caucus system in Utah say it is grass-roots politics at its best. Since historically only 5 percent of registered voters attend caucus meetings, that gives delegates a real voice in the process. Utah is only one of seven states that uses a convention system and the only state in the country where delegates can nix a primary election if a candidate receives enough delegates' votes at the convention. In short, delegates united behind a candidate can assure political victory even before the polls open.

Who is eligible to be a delegate?

You have to be at least age 18 by the November election, bring a photo ID with you to the meeting and you must be a registered voter in Utah. You must live within your precinct boundaries of your caucus meeting, and if you want to be a Republican delegate, you have to register as a Republican. That registration can happen at the caucus meeting. Democrats don't have to have a registered affiliation with their party to run as a delegate.

How long is the commitment?

A two-year term, but it mostly means going to the convention and being active in the process to select candidates. This year, delegates select candidates in nominating conventions and in 2013, delegates will participate in organizing conventions to select party officers and debate party platforms.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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