Utah is looking at a possible change in election process that is over 100 years old.
Count My Vote is a campaign to change Utah’s use of caucuses in place of primaries. Their claim is that the current system is exclusionary and archaic.
For most of its history, Utah has used a convention-primary system to nominate candidate for elected office. In the spring of election years, Utahans in small caucus meetings, held throughout the state, select delegates to represent their community in state and county conventions. Those conventions are then used to nominate candidates for political office.
Count My Vote’s website claims that because caucus meetings are held on one night every two years there is not enough flexibility, which limits those who can vote making the decisions made not wholly based on the voice of the people.
“It’s reminiscent of the old days where only rich white land owners were allowed to vote,” Michael Davidson, Count My Vote Supporter said. “If you can’t go to the one meeting to select these delegates who are supposed to vote for you, you have no say, no voice.”
Keep Our Caucus is a group that has formed in favor of keeping Utah’s election process the same, arguing that Utah has a strong history of positive governance, which is unparalleled in the rest of the United States. Their claim is that Utah’s strong leadership, as dictated by the caucus system has lead to the successes we see today.
“Utah has one of the strongest economy’s in the nation,” Bill Bagely, Keep Our Caucus supporter, said. “It’s no accident that we are in the stable place we are today because of how we’ve chosen to run our government.”
Utah is one of seven states that still use caucuses and one of five that exclusively use them (Utah, Conn., N. Dak., Colo. and N. Mex.). Keep Our Caucus in partnership with similar protective movements such as Protect the Neighborhood Vote argue that a primary based on popular vote would disintegrate the quality of elected officials.
“Caucuses allow for the public to personally meet with potential candidates,” Dirk Mason, Protect the Neighborhood Vote supporter said. “Without that candidates will be further distanced from the electorate making it harder and harder to maintain the public voice.”
The debate between the two groups is heated and often unfriendly. Count My Vote contacted UVUSA for permission to come on campus to inform students of their arguments and give them the opportunity to sign the petition. The petition, which requires 120,000 signatures by April, will allow the change to the election process be up for a general vote. Keep Our Caucus doesn’t want the movement on the ballot at all.
UVUSA invited Count My Vote to come to campus on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because of this choice Keep Our Caucus sees UVU as a supporter of Count My Vote.
“UVUSA’s idea is to allow education to happen on campus,” Jono Andrews, UVU student body president, said. “Because of this we have welcomed both groups on campus, offered them the same time and resources to educate students on the issue. We’ve even offered an open debate, which we hope to see happen in February.”
Neither group wants the other on campus, asking UVUSA to deny the other access.
“We are not directly affiliated with either cause,” Andrews said. “We are hoping for both to come and present their sides for the students to decide.”
UVUSA has asserted that they are a university and as such the primary focus is on a well-rounded education.
Many of Keep Our Caucus’s high-ranking supporters have asked for more drastic opposition to the change. Utah County’s Republican Chairman Casey Voeks has launched a Facebook page asking for a boycott of Megaplex Theatres for allowing the Count My Vote campaign into theater lobbies to gather signatures on its ballot petition.
“It seems petty,” Jessica Marx, junior studying nursing, said, “that they are trying to stop people from their right to free expression. I think everyone has the right to petition change if they wish. I don’t like that these people are threatening businesses that way.”
Keep Our Caucus argues that the sword is double edged and that they have the right to respond to what they perceive as a threat to their government.
“Boycotting is a standard form of protest,” Sandy Talbot, Keep Our Caucus supporter, said. “We feel like this movement is a threat to our way of life, our political stability and we take that seriously.”
UVU students are invited by both groups to educate themselves on all aspects of the issue before making a decision.
“The thing is that even if we get the signatures we need we still have to go through the general vote,” Davidson said. “If we end up on the ballot it’s not going to be the end of the world for them [Keep Our Caucus]. It’s more important that the voice of the people is heard, whatever that may be.”