This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah has 2026 precincts with 1,361,636 registered voters, of which 39 percent are registered Republicans. Every even year, caucuses are held on the last Tuesday of March. Friends, family and neighbors get together to discuss political issues and candidates, then vote for delegates to the party nominating and organizing conventions.
This is a huge undertaking. It takes months to inform precinct members, lock down locations and gather and train volunteers. It costs thousands of dollars to make sure each precinct has the ability to conduct their caucuses. The scale of this event, a wonderful display of representative, democratic freedom, is so massive that no single candidate, group or special interest has the ability to dominate it.
And therein lies the problem for some people.
Since the downfall of Sen. Bob Bennett last May at the GOP party convention, attempts are being made to disparage Utah's caucus/convention system. A chorus of accusations of "possible manipulation," control by "party elites," takeovers by "special interest groups," have sprung up in the media to sway the public from this grass-roots form of selecting party candidates by delegate vote. There is no basis for these accusations.
As the chair of the Salt Lake County GOP, I have had a front-row seat in seeing just how great this system is. A candidate can win without the big machine and big bucks required by candidates in states that pick nominees in a primary election.
Political parties help facilitate the Utah caucus system by making sure candidates get their messages to the caucuses cheaply, and hold conventions that bring the delegates to the candidates to facilitate campaigning. This is perfect for a candidate on a small budget and opens the field to a wider variety of candidates.
As for the notion that just 3,500 "elites" (delegates) are making the decision, just the opposite is true. These 3,500 grass-roots caucus attendees (no one has shown evidence of anything else) have been through an often-grueling selection process (some precincts have 100 attendees and elect only two 2 delegates) to emerge as precinct representatives.
Post-caucus, they are inundated with campaign material and must digest it to determine their candidates. These "elites" are 18-year-old first-time voters, moms and dads, new citizens, senior citizens, workers, retired workers, minority voters, etc. Any caucus attendee will concur that this is far from "elite."
And is 3,500 a small number to have making decisions for us? Well, we have three U.S. congressmen and two U.S. senators making decisions for us every day, so having 3,500 of our neighbors doing it should be OK.
The real issue with this system for the anti-caucus groups is that it's impossible for them to obtain the influence they need to advance political careers and/or agendas. They can't spend enough time, money or energy to lock down the support they need across such a disparate political landscape in so short a time.
How do I know this? Because they have told me so.
And therein lies the beauty of the caucus/convention system. You, your friends and your neighbors send a representative to a convention who personally interacts with and listens to several candidates who got there on a $500 to a $500,000 budget.
Your delegate talks to other delegates, reviews literature and listens to speeches. When it's over, with little or no influence from special-interest groups, your delegate votes, goes home and reports back to you. It's as down-to-Earth as you could possibly imagine!
Utah should cherish our caucus/convention system, ignore special-interest calls for primaries-only and preserve the present system for future generations. The current system drives politics to the grass-roots level better than any other, and makes candidates and elected officials responsive to constituents. There is no reason to change it.
Thomas Wright is chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party.