Matt Gade, Deseret News
PROVO — At a Count My Vote public hearing Wednesday, backers hoping to change Utah’s current caucus and convention system to a direct primary election were met mainly with criticism and questions from audience members.
Arturo Morales LLan stood up to say that he and his wife like to stay involved in the community, which is why he had a problem with the public meeting scheduled on a Wednesday at noon.
Llam addressed one of the main motivations of Count My Vote backers — the inaccessible times of caucus meetings.
“The first thing you do is hold this meeting on a Wednesday at noon where hardly anybody can participate,” he said. “I find that a little hypocritical at best.”
One woman stood to say to say she likes the initiative, and she wants to see it on the 2014 ballot. Another man said whether the 50 or so who attended the hearing agreed or not, they should sign the petition to get Count My Vote on a ballot where everyone can vote.
Count My Vote backers will need to get 102,000 signatures by April 15 to get the issue on the November 2014 ballot.
Lindsay Zizumbo, executive director of Count My Vote, told the crowd her group plans to get 130,000 signatures.
“We want every corner of the state to be educated,” she said. “They’ll be running a statewide initiative.”
Sue Pollard addressed a concern about a lack of voter participation. A Summit County resident, she said voter participation there has increased.
“If you’re participating in your caucus, you’re directly voting on who your delegate is going to be,” Pollard said. “I want to now how a direct primary is going to actually help the people any more than they already know.”
Zizumbo said she believes the public will educate themselves, to which an eruption of murmurs escaped the crowd and comments of, “No they won’t,” were heard.
One audience member stood to say the current system shouldn’t be thrown out.
"Let’s make it better,” Becky Pirente said. “I would recommend that as a better starting point.”
Pirente said she became involved in the caucus meetings eight years ago and said it has been a great way for her to get involved in the community.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to find out what our neighbors think and believe,” she said.
Kathy Gray said after attending a caucus meeting, she felt it was very unorganized. She thinks the current system is outgrown in some areas. She said her delegate’s thinking was not her own thinking and she is in favor of Count My Vote's drive because “I think your vote is going to go in.”
Emma Kimbrough stood up and became emotional, saying she attended the hearing Wednesday because she is frightened for her six children, 20 grandchildren and more than a dozen great grandchildren.
“What are we giving them?” she asked. She said she felt the current system “was a farce, and it had already been decided, the people that were elected.”
Merlin Weekes expressed concerns that small counties won't have a vote unless they go through the caucus system.
“You get people you trust, sit down and go through each candidate several times,” he said. “We need to keep this in the grass roots.”
Daryl Acumen, vice chairman of the Utah County Republican Party, attended the meeting and stood to argue against Utah's need for more primaries.
“I’m not feeling it, I’m not buying it,” he said.
He told Zizumbo, a Utah native, that she hasn’t experienced what it’s like outside of Utah. He said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called him to wish him a Merry Christmas, said he is on a first name basis with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and even has Sen. Mike Lee's cellphone number.
“Not because I’m vice chairman of the party,” he said. “Because I chose to get involved.”
Susan Ridgeway said she has been active in her neighborhood and worked to get people to show up at caucuses. The reason she believes many people don’t attend caucus meetings is because they are too busy, they have little interest, or they are frustrated with the government.
“The caucus system to me serves as a neighborhood primary, that is essentially what it is. We aren’t excluding people and most people can make arrangements to come,” she said.
Ridgeway said there is no guarantee more people will take part in a direct primary more than they do in the current system.
The hearing in Provo to review the initiative is one of seven required before the petition can circulate. Three hearings were scheduled Wednesday with four more scheduled Thursday.
There will also be an online hearing on Saturday at noon for those unable to attend the scheduled hearings.
Changing Utah’s system for nominating political candidates as called for by the initiative adds up to nearly $1 million, according to a study released Tuesday.
Parties hold caucuses under the current system to elect delegates who vote on nominees at party conventions. Candidates with enough delegate support advance to the general election.
Count My Vote plans to launch the petition drive on Oct. 26. The same day, the GOP Central Committee is expected to hold a special meeting to consider modifications to the system in an effort to counter the initiative.
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