Group pushes for change to Utah’s caucus system, others disagree

Posted at 10:12 PM, Oct 24, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- The catch phrase "Count my Vote" probably sounds familiar to you by now. It's an initiative to change the state's caucus system, and a group of Utahns is trying to get it on the ballot by next November.

However, killing the caucus could have killed U.S. Senator Mike Lee's chances of winning an election.

"If you look at Republicans in the state, his approval rating is down to just above 50 percent and dropping," said Professor Tim Chambless of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

He's referring to Senator Lee, who has made national news recently due to his approval rating. The latest headline came from the Washington Post, "Tea Party favorite Senator Lee faces GOP backlash over government shutdown".

Once upon a time, however, Lee was an underdog.

"Mike Lee, having never run for public office before, was able to upset a three-term U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, who had such a high approval rating," Chambless said.

"Count my vote is a citizens initiative to implement a direct primary," said Lindsay Zizumbo, the executive director of Count My Vote.

She claims that alone would improve Utah's historically low voter turnout rate.

"With a direct primary, we believe it will increase participation and increase voting in women and minority groups,” she said.

James Gonzales, who is a delegate and supports the pro-caucus group Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, said not so fast.

"It is disingenuous, the portrayal that somehow this is going to involve more people when in fact it's going to isolate most Utahns,” he said.

Some believe the initiative is a way to prevent tea party candidates like Mike Lee, from winning again.

"Count my vote is not about one candidate or one political party, we're about increasing voter participation and that's our goal,” Zizumbo said. “Founders of Count My Vote have been writing and looking at the current system since 2006, long before Senator Lee.”

"Mike Lee did not have the money or the name recognition or the public record to be able to compete in a primary election against Senator Bennett," Chambless said.

Senator Lee may have some competition when his term ends in 2016. Thomas Wright, who is Utah's former state Republican Party chair was quoted in the Washington Post article, saying he may consider a run. We reached out to him, but he didn't respond. Instead, a well-known campaign manager who ran Mia Love's race called back to say, "no comment."

Count My Vote organizers have until April 15 to collect more than 100,000 signatures. This weekend will begin their first push at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City.