Toby Talbot, Associated Press
The "Count My Vote" (CMV) group and a few other prominent citizens and politicians are undermining grass-roots politics in Utah. They would dilute or eliminate the valuable caucus/convention process by which we choose candidates for our political parties. This is unfortunate.
First, the most effective way to vet candidates is for ordinary, informed citizens to meet face-to-face with them, ask them hard, unscripted questions, listen and then honestly compare them. But this is not logistically possible for the voters at large. So we make the task manageable by having neighborhoods elect representatives (delegates) to do it on our behalf. Delegates have a duty to vet with an open mind all their party's candidates.
Second, candidates take seriously their meetings with the delegates because they know it's harder to fool these voters who are specifically tasked with the duty to vet them in person. These meetings put the talented newcomer candidate on a more equal footing with the incumbent because both get face time with the delegates. The incumbent thereby realizes re-election is not automatic, and that's a plus for the voters.
With the caucus/convention system, the bright newcomer candidate on a limited budget has a fighting chance; without it, he or she has almost no chance. If we eliminate this system and go to a direct primary, as CMV is unwisely advocating, the incumbent has little incentive to be accountable to the voters. Instead, he or she knows that being re-elected will be easy, based on name recognition and money for carefully prepared campaign ads. Contrary to CMV's claims, with a direct primary (no caucuses or convention), individual voters have less of a voice, not more.
Third, CMV has also pushed for an "alternate" method to get on the party's primary ballot, bypassing the caucus/convention process. Bad idea. This would override the voice of the grass-roots-elected delegates and replace it with the hand-picked choice of a few party leaders or candidates who have lots of money and influence (the real elite). Sorry, but that's what the other states have, to their detriment. If candidates are not willing to go through their party's vetting process, they don't belong on the ballot.
Fourth, some are urging Republicans to open their primary to non-Republicans. But this could lead to serious mischief. In Utah, the Republicans are the majority party by a wide margin, so they are a natural target. If the Republican primary were open, overzealous Democrats would be tempted to cross over and get the weaker Republican chosen in the primary, so that their own guy might later beat him in the general election. The Democrats themselves, however, as the minority party, are at minimal risk from cross-over Republicans, so pointing out that the Democrats already open their primary means little. Republican Party candidates should be determined by Republicans and Democrat candidates by Democrats.
Fifth, some proposals aim to make the caucuses more convenient. Yes, convenience is a worthwhile goal, but major caution is needed when it comes to participation in the vital process of a free people choosing their leaders. Often the more "convenient" we try to make this process, the greater the risk of tampering, manipulation and fraud. The proposed absentee caucus voting, for example, is a concern. Protecting the sanctity of the vote is more important than mere convenience.
I encourage the Legislature, the parties and all Utahns to promote the caucus/convention system because it's one of our best tools to elect good leaders and keep them accountable to the people. We would be foolish and short-sighted indeed if we were to water down or eliminate it.
Gerald Larsen is a software engineer and a regular participant in his neighborhood caucuses in Kearns. He has been a state or county delegate several times.
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