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Utahns aiming to change the state’s caucus system rally

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Posted at 10:40 PM, Nov 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-01 00:40:02-05

ST. GEORGE, Utah - A group of Utahns looking to change the state’s primary election system rallied in St. George Saturday.

The “Count my Vote” initiative would eliminate Utah’s caucus system and form a direct primary.

Organizers said, at its core, the initiative is about increasing voter participation. According to numbers cited from the by the State Election Office, in 2012 only 51 percent of voters turned out to the polls, and many blame the state's caucus system.

Saturday, volunteers spent the afternoon at the Megaplex 10 in St. George to gather signatures that would put the measure on the 2014 ballot.

“Only about three to eight percent of registered voters actually get to the precinct meetings,” volunteer organizer Mike S. Leavitt said. “Thus it eliminates a large swath of the population who can actually go and participate and become a delegate and have a vote.”

In a political caucus, voters choose delegates who spend time with the primary candidates. Those delegates then vote and select who will move on to the primary or general elections. “Count my Vote” supporters said the caucus system is exclusionary for those who can’t make it to the caucus meetings, like missionaries or members of the military.

The initiative would eliminate the voting power of the caucus/convention system and establish a direct primary, where all candidates would get equal representation on a public ballot.

“This would be a more open method where people can select political candidates directly,” Leavitt said. “We believe in today’s age, you can become an informed voter on your own time, with the internet, with social media, with television debates.”

St. George residents like Russ Hurlbut agree with the change, saying the direct primary would put more pressure on the candidates to be open to all voters, rather than just a select few.

“I think there’s a lot of good rationale behind the logic they have,” Hurlbut said. “The voters who will decide who will be contestants in the primary.”

But those opposed to the initiative said Utah’s system is actually better than the systems in other states because it forces potential candidates for state office to campaign on a local level.

“You’re on your own out there and you have to represent yourself to those individuals who go in and are representing the people in their small communities,” Leeds resident Elliot Sheltman said.

Opponents also said the caucus system is a protection for candidates who don’t have the money to spend on a large-scale campaigns.

“It’s a one-on-one process, people interview you, talk to you, ask you questions,” said current St. George State Representative Jon Stanard (R). “In direct primaries, it’s big media buys. It’s soundbites, it’s how do you get your message out? And you need a lot of money to do that.”

“Count my Vote” needs 100,000 signatures by next April to get the initiative on the November 2014 ballot. More information about the campaign can be found on their website.