This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
In an op-ed in this space Saturday, Rep. Jim Nielson praised Utah's caucus-convention system as superior to a straight primary election, where "[t]o win you've got to be wealthy enough to build name ID or be famous already."
Nielson implies that Utah's political candidate nominating system is preferable because it costs candidates less to run, and that to scrap our unique method would make campaigns more expensive ("Utah's caucus-convention system works," Opinion, Dec. 3).
Yet he cites state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who spent more than his six opponents combined in 2008. It appears that the caucus system didn't save any money there. In another faulty example, Nielson laments that a House race in Colorado cost $100,000, much of that spent in a primary election.
Guess what? Colorado also has a caucus-convention system, albeit not quite like Utah's. Only Utah has an exclusive nominating process that allows candidates, by convention delegate vote of only 60 percent, to fairly easily avoid a primary.
Why do I say exclusive? When a political system allows delegates, less than two-tenths of 1 percent of Utah's population, to select party candidates and ignores the involvement and political desires of 99.8 percent of the electorate, that's exclusive and wrong.
Gov. Jon Huntsman's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy worked diligently to determine why Utah's voter participation had tanked from leading the nation in voter turnout to a ranking that is now a miserable 50 percent. According to Commission Chair and Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers, "The 800-pound gorilla of our democratic malaise is the caucus-and-convention system."
A November 2011 research report by the Utah Foundation on the state's nominating system gives the history and explains the procedure. Its analysis states, "[R]esearch has shown that the convention delegates do not represent the general electorate; they have different priorities and are either more liberal, in the case of Democrats, or more conservative, in the case of Republicans, than other party members."
Public policy decisions by partisan elected officials may focus on delegate support, which is sometimes in conflict with policies supported by the general public, according to the report.
This is a politically correct statement so let me be direct. Utah's present system does reflect the will of delegates rather than that of the general public. This reality has an enormous influence on political rhetoric and actual voting.
The passage of the private school voucher bill in 2007 and the likely reintroduction of a tuition tax credit bill in 2012 are Exhibits A and B, but the list of other bills that do not reflect the will of the general public is very long. That list includes enacted bills that make citizen initiatives, a right guaranteed by Utah's Constitution, extraordinarily difficult to place on the ballot.
Utah voters deserve the right to know that their vote is equal to the vote of every other eligible voter in Utah. That is not true in the caucus-convention system. Our present system is not "one person, one vote." Only GOP delegates made the choice to oust two respected Republican public servants Gov. Olene Walker and U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett. This happens often.
I applaud those who understand the flaw in our present political system and are discussing alternatives. An example may be an initiative which would allow signed petitions as a substitute method to be eligible for a partisan ballot. Such an initiative would be arduous, but is needed.
Ninety-eight years ago the U.S. Constitution was amended to allow the people, not state legislatures, to elect U.S. senators. It's time to alter Utah's antiquated caucus-convention system so that partisan public offices, like nonpartisan positions, are filled by the people. The 99.8 percent.
Sheryl Allen represented District 19 in the Utah House of Representatives prior to Nielson's election in 2010. She lives in Bountiful.