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Time to get rid of caucuses

Published May 25, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's not surprising that Republican delegates at their May 18 state convention voted in favor of keeping the caucus system as is, and against increasing voter participation in selecting candidates for election. As Republicans hold every statewide office, five out of six federal offices, and a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, they think, "It ain't broke."

Even those in the "Count My Vote" group, which may file a citizen initiative to provide an alternate route for candidates to get on a political party's primary ballot, seem hesitant to call the caucus system fatally flawed. They worked vigorously with the party to try to minimally increase the threshold of delegates for a candidate to avoid a primary and to make it easier for citizens to participate in caucuses.

Essentially preserving the caucus system, they're offering an alternate route only so that a small group of convention delegates can't shut out popular candidates like Bob Bennett and Olene Walker.

But the caucus system, while perhaps in the best interests of the party faithful, is not in the best interests of the public. It makes one-party domination an even bigger concern because it concentrates a lot of power in the hands of even fewer people.

Our state's most serious problems have more to do with the corruption that ensues in a noncompetitive system than with the intraparty issues that divide moderates and conservatives. It's telling that Attorney General John Swallow and other regrettable choices won not only the convention vote, but the Republican primary as well, guaranteeing election in November.

As long as our fate is tied to the squabbling between party factions over which tweaks should or should not be made to the caucus system, we're not going to get a solution that's in the best interests of the voters at large.

A real citizens' initiative would seek the most fair and open elections possible to increase competition, accountability, participation and choice. As things currently stand, candidates who refuse to kowtow to a party can't have a meaningful role in the primary process.

Unaffiliated voters, and even voters affiliated with minority parties, are left without any real choices at the ballot box or representation in government. If we stay with the partisan primary system of choosing candidates, parties can close their primaries and exclude huge segments of the population from participating in determinative elections.

It makes sense to let the party faithful get special privileges in determining which candidate a party endorses, but all voters ought to have a say in who gets elected to public office. That's why it's time for citizens to get serious about electoral reform in Utah and work towards a "nonpartisan" blanket primary, where voters, not parties, control who qualifies for the general election.

All candidates of whatever stripe or party preference would appear on the same primary ballot, and all voters would vote in the same primary. If desired, candidates could continue to indicate a party preference on the ballot. But candidates would advance to the general election, not by party preference but by reaching the established cut-off threshold. We could guard against the spoiler effect by implementing some form of ranked-choice balloting.

Parties could still hold conventions, endorse candidates, and advocate for candidates, but they would have to do so as any other private, special interest group. It's time for Utahns to lead.

Tiani Coleman is a past chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party. She is now an unaffiliated voter.






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