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Dan Liljenquist: Keep Utah's caucus system, with a few tweaks

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's caucus system works and should not be scuttled in favor of a primary system.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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Over the last year, Utah’s caucus system has come under fire, maligned as a relic of bygone days, derided as overly burdensome, unnecessarily complex, and downright inconvenient, the Model-T of political systems in the smart-car age. It is no small wonder, at least to those who advocate that Utah voters should adopt a method to bypass the caucus system, that we have survived this long with such a clunky, lumbering, labor-intensive nominating process. The implication is that we in Utah, somehow, must be missing out on the great political innovations that have lead other states to nirvanas of good government.

I have a hard time reconciling this view of the caucus system with the results the system has helped produce. Utah is consistently ranked as the best managed state in the country. We have a triple-A bond rating, balanced budgets, low taxes and a friendly business environment. We pay our bills, do not make commitments that we cannot keep, and generally act in responsible, publicly spirited ways. Some might argue that these results are merely a product of the Utah culture, but since we clearly don’t have a monopoly on public virtue, surely some credit must redound to our unique caucus system. I believe it is worth preserving.

That’s not to say that the caucus system cannot be modernized, enhanced, and streamlined. This Saturday, thanks to the leadership of GOP State Party Chairman James Evans, the Republican Central Committee will vote on a series of recommendations that will significantly expand caucus participation and dramatically improve the caucus experience. I expect that the Central Committee will, overwhelmingly, vote to adopt the following reforms.

  • Streamlined check-in – Caucus attendees will be able to check-in to the precinct meetings electronically, either online beforehand or at the precinct location, rather than waiting in long check-in lines. This will help ensure that caucus meetings begin on time.
  • Streamlined voting – Caucus attendees will not be required to endure endless rounds of voting to elect their delegates. Instead, voting will be limited to a maximum of two rounds. This will dramatically reduce the duration of caucus meetings.
  • Absentee voting – Those who are unable to attend caucus meetings will still be able to vote for their delegates by printing an online ballot, filling it out, sealing it in an envelope and having it delivered to the precinct location. This will make the caucus process accessible to nearly everyone who might be excluded because of work, family or other commitments.
The objectives of these simple reforms are to ensure that caucus meetings last no longer than two hours and that all Republicans can participate.

On a personal note, I am grateful for our caucus system. I have found through direct personal experience that the vast majority of state and county Republican delegates are decent, humble, thoughtful people, who take seriously their responsibility to represent their neighbors in vetting candidates for elected office. Republican delegates are not monolithic in nature, hewing to a dogmatic ideology at the expense of pragmatism. Rather they are as complex and simple, as opinionated and dispassionate, as majestic and flawed as those they represent. Both times I campaigned to Republican delegates, first in 2008 and then in 2012, I came out of the process with a greater admiration and respect for the remarkable people who live in this state.

With these simple adjustments, along with a greater commitment from all of us to do our civic duty and participate fully in our process, I believe that the caucus system will continue to facilitate good government in the State of Utah.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.

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