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So Rep. John Dougall wants to have political parties take over Utah's primary elections, reasoning that giving up $3 million in state money for those elections would keep lawmakers from "dictating what you should or shouldn't do."

That would be the same Legislature, of course, to which Dougall belongs.

Apparently, it all boils down to whether forgoing state funds would assure the continuation of Utah's caucus-convention system, in which diehards in both parties decide who will even get to be on the primary ballot. Remember Bob Bennett?

There are a couple of problems with such notions. The parties pay for their conventions, and they also can decide whether to hold open or closed primaries. Only registered Republicans can vote in GOP primaries; Democratic elections are open to everyone except those who voted Republican.

The state's role is to cover the cost of licensing software for voting machines, maintaining those machines and providing voter-rights posters and those "I voted" stickers. Counties do the nuts-and-bolts Election Day work: paying to store the voting machines securely, training and paying poll workers and making sure ballots are complete and accurate.

"The state does nothing to help parties and individuals," says Mark Thomas, Utah's director of elections.

So where would the parties get the money to pay for a $3 million primary election? "A Xango primary?" he muses.

In the meantime, Utah's once-vaunted voter participation has plummeted over the past 20 years, says Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"Utah has gone from being top in participation to among the worst," he says. "It's the caucus-convention system. It's too quirky to have people show up."

The caucuses produce convention delegates, who choose the nominees for the primary and ultimately for the general election in November.

Jowers says polling has shown those delegates "are not at all in touch with the voters [and] their priorities and passions. Other things play in, too — the fact that we're becoming more and more Republican, which makes general elections less and less meaningful."

For example, Jowers says, his wife was once a delegate who got a "huge amount of information" that was unavailable to anyone but delegates. Without such information, he adds, "you're irrelevant."

Last January, a Tribune poll found that 61 percent of the registered voters questioned would support direct primaries over the caucus-convention system.

It's worth remembering that Dougall sponsored the legislation that would have gutted Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act to keep the public from knowing what's up with their tax dollars and interests.

Now, he evidently feels that checks and balances are unnecessary in our election system.

But checks and balances are the heart of our state and federal systems of government. They may be inconvenient to some, but they protect all of us, not just the initiated few.

And that's precisely why Utah voters ought to demand an open, transparent election process, just as 43 other states strive for.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at and join her at