The Count My Vote initiative is commendable. Direct primary elections would be more accessible than the current delegate system, which is not only complicated but exclusionary. However, other issues need to be addressed in the future to solve Utah's ideologically driven, unbalanced governing process.
Recent editorials in the Deseret News, however, would have readers believe that Count My Vote is a panacea for all of Utah’s electoral problems. For example, in a September 28 editorial (“Time for caucus reform”), Deseret News editors suggested that the initiative will not only democratize elections in Utah by allowing more Utahns to participate in the selection of candidates, but it will also reduce the influence of wealthy donors. But, being allowed to participate, and actually participating, are two different things. And without campaign finance reform, wealthy donors can still find ways to influence the system.
An October 21 editorial (“A centrist populace”) made similar claims. There, editors argued that the initiative will give voice to the disaffected majority of moderate Utahns who do not vote in the primaries, thereby boosting voter turnout. They also argued that the Count My Vote initiative will improve trust in Utah government. True, but don’t forget that ethics reform is also needed.
It isn’t clear that the narrow focus of Count My Vote, a requirement for any initiative petition drive, will have any effect on campaign finance or moderating public discourse or restoring confidence in elected leaders.
Alliance for a Better UTAH has endorsed Count My Vote. However, supporters must refrain from seeing the initiative as the beginning and end of Utah’s electoral problems. Indeed, it is just one element, albeit a very important one, of a list of reforms necessary to improve our civic landscape.
And what might the rest of that list look like? I suggest three necessary elements that a comprehensive campaign to improve electoral processes in Utah should include — most of which, it should be noted, were thoroughly vetted by the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Democracy — though it has been largely ignored by the Legislature.
First, access to the polls must be improved. This includes three specific policy proposals: election-day registration, statewide early voting, including vote-by-mail, and the development of online voting technologies.
Second, create fair and competitive elections. Specific policy proposals include primary ballot reform (which Count My Vote is currently undertaking), statewide campaign finance reform, an independent redistricting commission to end gerrymandering and the elimination straight-party voting.
Third, Utah needs statewide ethics reforms. Utah’s ethics laws need to be significantly strengthened. This would help reduce the common complaint that most politicians are bad apples.
There is no doubt that the integrity of Utah’s electoral processes, when measured by the index of voter participation, is in serious trouble. It is a welcome development that so many good people are volunteering for and/or donating to Count My Vote to improve the political process in Utah.
Alliance for a Better UTAH wishes continued success to the Count My Vote folks in their efforts to reform Utah’s unfair primary system, but we urge Utah citizens not to lose sight of the long game.
Sheryl Allen is a board member of the Alliance for a Better UTAH.