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In our opinion: Utah's caucus system needs reform

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 1:31 a.m. MDT

Many Utah voters, however, feel disenfranchised by the process, and some experts cite disillusionment with the caucus system as one of the primary reasons behind Utah's declining voter turnout in recent years. Many feel the decision has already been made for them by a relative handful of people, and, in some cases, that's exactly what happens at the state conventions. (August Miller, Deseret News archives) Many Utah voters, however, feel disenfranchised by the process, and some experts cite disillusionment with the caucus system as one of the primary reasons behind Utah's declining voter turnout in recent years. Many feel the decision has already been made for them by a relative handful of people, and, in some cases, that's exactly what happens at the state conventions. (August Miller, Deseret News archives)

At the Utah Republican Party's recent state convention, delegates voted down every attempt to reform Utah's flawed caucus system. Proposals to make the process more inclusive and less susceptible to domination by extreme factions in the party were met either with indifference or hostility.

Even simple measures, such as one proposed by newly elected State GOP Chairman James Evans that would have allowed caucuses to be held on a weekend to accommodate more attendees, were rejected out of hand.

At the convention, one delegate summed up the opposition to caucus reform by saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." His opinion seems to reflect that of the delegate majority, who wield a tremendous amount of power in selecting GOP candidates. Apparently, they feel a system that grants them such influence at the expense of the input of thousands of primary voters is one that needs to be protected rather than fixed.

Many Utah voters, however, feel disenfranchised by the process, and some experts cite disillusionment with the caucus system as one of the primary reasons behind Utah's declining voter turnout in recent years. Many feel the decision has already been made for them by a relative handful of people, and, in some cases, that's exactly what happens at the state conventions.

The system is more broken than delegates were willing to acknowledge last weekend. It needs to be fixed for the good of the entire state.

Thankfully, there is a growing movement to accomplish exactly that. Count My Vote is a bipartisan coalition in favor of caucus reform that includes a number of notable Republicans such as former Gov. Mike Leavitt and former GOP Chair Dave Hansen. This group was able to get many of its proposals on the agenda of the convention, in the hopes that delegates would recognize the growing demand for reform.

At the same time, they recognized the likelihood that delegates would be reluctant to relinquish their considerable clout voluntarily. That's why they are moving forward to put these issues on a ballot in the form of a referendum.

We hope they succeed.

Utah remains the only state in the union without any alternative route to a primary ballot outside of victory in a convention. That's the way most delegates like it, apparently, but it doesn't serve voters at-large.

The voice of the people needs to be heard on this subject. The time has come to include all voters in picking candidates, not just an elite few.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company