Opposition to the Count My Vote effort to replace party caucuses with direct primaries appears to be taking shape as a new, bipartisan group Protect Our Neighborhood Elections has formed with plans to point out flaws in the other side's proposal.
The development comes as the Count My Vote group has scheduled seven public hearings this week on its initiative proposal.
Protect Our Neighborhood Elections is made up of politicos from both parties and is in the process of picking its co-chairmen and board of directors, said James Humphreys, political director for the group Log Cabin Republicans and supporter of the caucuses.
"We're just kind of tired of Count My Vote having a blank canvas with no one responding," said Humphreys.
The group has filed papers with the lieutenant governor's office creating a political issues committee Utah First which will allow raising and spending money for the cause. The committee is led by former state Sen. Casey Anderson and Rob Cox, a Cedar City accountant.
"We believe very strongly that the Count My Vote proposal as drafted will damage the voice of a lot of people in the state of Utah and their ability, whether they're Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated, to have their local issues understood, both by the Legislature and most certainly by the federal delegation."
Count My Vote co-executive director Taylor Morgan said the group expected opposition.
"It's no surprise that some delegates and party insiders oppose us. They currently have complete control over the nomination process and are reluctant to share that power with all Utah voters," Morgan said.
Morgan said that, as a state delegate, he and a majority of the delegates voted for proposals to reform the caucus system that would have made the Count My Vote initiative unnecessary, but they failed to get the two-thirds supermajority to enact the reform.
Humphreys said the group plans to have people at each of the Count My Vote meetings next week. The seven public hearings spread across the state are required under Utah law before the Count My Vote backers can begin gathering the 102,000 signatures they need to put their proposal on the 2014 ballot.
If voters approve the proposal, instead of delegates selected at neighborhood caucuses choosing nominees at their party conventions, candidates who gather enough signatures would go on the primary ballot, with the top vote getter moving to the November general election.
The Count My Vote group says the current caucus system is exclusionary, because people with family or work commitments don't get a say in choosing the party's nominee and has led to low voter participation.
But critics say participation in the public meetings will be difficult.
"They have scheduled four of their seven public statewide meetings at noon during the week with two of those during a special session of the Legislature," said Fred Cox, a former state representative and opponent of the Count My Vote movement. "They also scheduled two of the required regional public meetings during UEA (Utah Education Association), so they don't seem to want the UEA teachers or their invited parents to attend."
Taylor Morgan, co-executive director of Count My Vote, said the urgency of getting to signature-gathering forced the group to schedule the meetings in a tight schedule.
Count My Vote will also have an eighth hearing where people can participate online. The event will likely be Friday.
Count My Vote schedule of hearings:
Logan Library, 255 N. Main St.
Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave.
• 7 p.m. Wednesday
Student Event Center, Salt Lake Community College, 4600 S. Redwood Road in Taylorsville
Uintah County Library, 204 E. 100 North in Vernal
Noyes Building Founders Hall, Snow College, 150 College Ave. in Ephraim
Thursday 7 p.m.
Jennifer Leavitt Center USU Eastern Utah Campus, 451 E. 400 North in Price
Sharwan Smith Student Center Theater, Southern Utah University, 351 W. University Blvd. in Cedar City