A new group is fighting back against critics of Utah’s caucus system.
Members of Protect Our Neighborhood Elections gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to voice their opposition to switching to a direct primary.
“The folks who have proposed this change to a straight primary system say that it will increase participation among women, among minorities, among disenfranchised groups. I think that’s exactly wrong,” said James Gonzalez, a democrat.
The debate was sparked when a group called Count My Vote emerged, arguing that the state’s caucus-convention system allows small groups to fill neighborhood meetings and ultimately dictate elections.
“If you look at the chronicles of Mormon history you will see notations of mass meetings occurring as early as the 1850’s,” said Gonzalez. “They were not disenfranchising meetings. They were enfranchising meetings. And today, still, they are enfranchising meetings.”
Under the state’s current system, voters choose delegates at neighborhood meetings, who then go on to conventions where candidates are picked.
“Our neighborhood elections have the unique ability to disperse power equally and proportionally all across the state,” said Paul Gooch, a co-chairman of Protect Our Neighborhood Elections.
But members of Count My Vote have argued the meetings put too much power in the hands of a few.
“An enormous amount of money is being spent to influence the vote of a very small, small group of people,” said Taylor Morgan, executive director. “And that small group chooses candidates for everybody else and we think that’s wrong.”
For people like Kris Kimball, though, Utah’s system helps level the playing field.
“It was our dual track system that allowed me, a stay at home mom, the ability to run for my house seat in 2010. I had never run for anything before, and I didn’t have much money to put into my race,” Kimball said.
She and others fear changing it will narrow the selections voters have in the future.
“It eliminates minorities,” said Gonzalez. “It eliminates anybody who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars in a process, which now does not cost thousands of dollars.”