Wright Leaning: Saving Utah’s caucus system

OPINION – I recently had a co-worker mention to me that he might get the opportunity to participate in the upcoming 2013 Republican Party Organizing Convention. He then asked me what I thought about the ongoing debate over our current Caucus system to determine which candidates will be nominated for the various offices by the Utah Republican Party.

In case you aren’t familiar the current system is set up such that, for every office, except the President of the United States, candidates vying for the Republican’s nomination are voted on by delegates which represent their precinct, or neighborhood. This voting occurs at the county and state Republican conventions. After each round of voting, the candidate with the fewest votes is dismissed. This process continues until either one of the candidates garners 60 percent or more of the delegate’s votes or there are only two candidates remaining. If the field is narrowed to only two candidates and neither is able to win at least 60 percent of the votes then those two candidates will face off in a Primary. On the other hand, if one of the candidates is able to pick up 60 percent of more of the delegate’s votes, that candidate earns the party’s nomination for that office and will run as the Republican candidate in the General Election.

A group called Count My Vote is trying to put an end to Utah’s caucus system by getting enough signatures to get an initiative on the 2014 ballot.

Many in the Republican party that want to preserve the caucus system are attempting to find a compromise that will keep the group happy without getting this initiative on the ballot. They believe that if such an initiative were to pass, it will kill our current system.

Our caucus system is not perfect. However, there are many distinct advantages that make it better than the alternative.

The biggest advantage to our current system is the way information about the candidates gets to these delegates. For those running for state office such as governor or U.S. Senate there is a maximum of 4,000 delegates who will be casting a vote. For other offices, such as U.S. Congress, it is roughly one-third of that since there are three congressional districts, and for offices in the state legislature it’s even fewer. As for county offices, Washington County sports 233 state delegates and 485 county delegates.

With those numbers, it’s not only achievable for candidates to speak with every single delegate one-on-one: it’s expected.

In a general or a primary election most of the voting public does very little to inform themselves on the issues and the candidates. Those that take the time to do so usually receive filtered or biased information from third parties like friends and the media. We then have a large chunk of the voters who cast a ballot with either a skewed or a partial view of the issues and the candidates.  Now imagine how bad it would be if, as happened in 2012, they had to inform themselves on six candidates for governor, 10 candidates for U.S. Senate, and six candidates for U.S. House of Representatives here in the 2nd district. A very small percentage of the population would take the required time to really get to know that many candidates.

Since every delegate has the opportunity to speak personally with every candidate, even candidates with little financial backing have a legitimate shot if they are the best one for the job because they are able to get in contact with each delegate and can answer any and all of the delegate’s questions.

As these delegates get to know the candidates, they’ll be able to get to know not only their professed stances, but also their character as they converse with them directly without the filtering that often occurs with the media.

Even if the delegates shirk their duty and learn nothing about the candidates, they’ll get to hear short speeches from each candidate right before they vote so it won’t be a completely blind vote while many general and primary election voters do vote blindly based on name recognition, gut instinct, or randon selection.

Many people that support abolishing our caucus system are frusterated because they feel they they have no say in who is nominated. However, it is incredibly easy to show up at the local precinct meetings where they can run as a delegate, vote for delegates with similar values, and encourage the rest of the group to vote with them as everyone in the precinct that wants is allowed to speak.

Instead of trashing a good system let’s improve it by participating in it.


Leo Wright is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews @LeoWright13

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • Karen April 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    If Utah’s caucus system worked as the author described it would be a model for the rest of the country. Instead it is the only state in the Union where a small number of people get to oust an incumbent. Instead of going to a convention as described, it is more like a high school pep rally with party bosses and special interest groups commandeering the show. When the governor of the state is booed at such an event, it is obvious that something is wrong. I don’t think we need to get rid of it, just change it.

  • utah_1 April 30, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Most people who want the caucus system changed, there are exceptions, are frustrated that they don’t have as much power as people who show up to the neighborhood election caucus meetings. It doesn’t take money; you just have to show up.

    Bypassing the Caucus / Convention System will NOT create more participation. Approx. one out of every 4 or 5 republicans attended their neighborhood election caucus meeting this last year. One in every three told a KSL poll they were involved or attending. There are 4000 state delegates that spend countless hours vetting candidates to be on the ballot. They are selected by those that attend the neighborhood election caucus meeting. You just have to attend.

    When people realize this “County My Vote initiative will give them less of a chance to participate but give media and power brokers more power, they will not sign any initiative. This is a power grab.

    If you are going to run as a democratic candidate, you have to comply with their rules. If you are going to run as a republican, you have to comply with their rules. If you want to run and not have those rules, you can run as an unaffiliated or independent, or run as a 3rd party candidate. This “Count My Vote initiative is an attempt to change the party rules by state law, bypassing the party and is even an attempt to change the law bypassing the legislature.

    It doesn’t mean things can’t be better, but this isn’t the way to do it.

  • Lynda April 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Great article! I think it is funny that Karen refers to a governor getting booed at convention. She is referring to Mike Leavitt, not Gary Herbert and it happened over a decade ago. Yes, the same Mike Leavitt who is trying to get around the caucus/convention system so he can buy himself an election. You see, most Republicans don’t like gun control and they don’t like it when our state officials give away even more of our public lands to the federal government. Basically Leavitt is a Democrat in Republican’s clothing and the Republican delegates didn’t like it. I don’t agree with booing, but I don’t blame them for doing it.

    Many weren’t even sure that it was the delegates who were booing. They thought it could have been the approximately 1,500 guests. “Hatch, Bishop and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said it appeared to them that many of the people booing and jeering Saturday were not credentialed delegates, who wore badges identifying themselves.”

  • Wes May 1, 2013 at 9:38 am

    I do have to agree. No system is perfect but at least this way we actually do have a voice and a vote that matters. If people don’t like who is nominated then all you have to do is show up. People do not realize just how much voice we have or they are just looking for something to complain about or want an easier route for people with money to get more power. Great article.

  • Daphne March 31, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Great article! It is interesting to me that the people are for this appear to be the sore losers whose candidate didn’t make through our caucus system and now want to insure their progressive candidate wins with the big money backing of the party and no personal contact with my neighborhood representative. They also never seem to mention that fact that Utah tried the primary only system for 10 years and voter turn out was ABYSMAL so they ditched it for our current system. I am, of course, suspicious that those who want to change our system are simply the “go along to get along”, “compromise to get our free stuff”, and the “gimme more no matter the cost” crowd.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.