Utah GOP making progress in quest for open caucus meetings

Published: Sunday, April 14 2013 12:05 a.m. MDT

Votes are counted during a GOP Caucus meeting at Lone Peak High School in Highland Thursday, March 15, 2012.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republicans on Saturday continued discussion about opening caucus meetings to include more of the state's registered voters.

The party voted on a series of proposals during its central committee meeting that would "modernize" its caucus system, said GOP Chairman Thomas Wright. He called it a "positive step in the right direction."

The move comes on the heels of an ultimatum delivered to Republican and Democratic parties in the state by the Count My Vote Executive Committee, which is made up of some top GOP names in the state.

The group aims to reform current candidate nominating procedures to "reverse the current trend of low voter participation and to ensure good governance and creation of good public policy," according to a statement released Friday.

Count My Vote has said it hopes parties are able to make internal reforms to fulfill a few desired principles, but if not, it will continue its plans to pursue a ballot initiative to adopt statewide reform.

While the goal is to increase voter participation in caucus proceedings and politics in the state, an initiative seeks to ensure a broader array of candidates get the chance to run for office, thus purporting to better represent the Utah populace.

Members of the group backing the initiative include former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt; former Environmental Protection Agency adviser and Leavitt Partners President Rich McKeown; Hinckley Institute of Politics director Kirk Jowers; and UtahPolicy.com publisher and Deseret News columnist LaVarr Webb.

Provisions the group is after include a more open voting process — eliminating caucus meeting-only delegation to include people who can't make it to a specific meeting; a way to expand primary election choices, such as raising the convention vote threshold or eliminating multiple ballots; and stability for the agreed-upon nomination procedure so voters can depend on it well into the future.

It would take nearly 103,000 signatures of registered voters in 26 of the state's 29 counties to put the measure on the 2014 ballot.

Utah's current caucus system has been called restrictive, as delegates ultimately decide who lands on the ballot. And delegates are decided among those who attend caucus meetings — which is typically as few as 2.5 percent of the population.

Wright said a record 25 percent of the state's 540,000 registered Republicans participated in caucus meetings in 2012, double the previous year's attendance. He said more than 250,000 voted in the primary election last year.

"But our ultimate goal is to have everyone participate," Wright said.

GOP nominations often win many unopposed seats in Utah, as the party reigns dominant throughout most of the state.

Wright said Count My Vote members were not in attendance at Saturday's meeting, but have been amenable to discussing concerns pertaining to their proposals, and he views the ongoing dialogue as "productive."

The Republican Party, he said, also voted on hosting a caucus website where individuals could find out about candidates running for office, preregister for meetings to make check-in run more smoothly, and find ways to participate even when they can't make it to the meetings. The possibility of electronic voting was another topic of discussion at Saturday's meeting.

"There are a lot of clean-up issues we'll face to improve the overall experience," Wright said, adding that he's happy with the fact the party is considering positive changes to the caucus process.

E-mail: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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