Count My Vote hits St. George with supporters, opponents

A man signs the Count My Vote petition to get the initiative on the ballot next year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 30, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A crowd of around 30 people gathered Saturday at the Pineview Stadium 10 theaters to kickoff the official start of the Count My Vote petition campaign in Washington County. A bipartisan movement, Count My Vote is a ballot initiative that proposes to replace Utah’s caucus primaries with a direct primary.

Proponents of Count My Vote have said that the state’s current caucus-convention system is out of date and leaves the choice of election candidates in the hands of the few. It is an exclusive system, they argue, and changing it to a direct primary would make the process much more inclusive.

“The current system right now empowers a small handful of individuals,” said Taylor Morgan, Count My Vote’s executive director.

The Utah Republican Party currently has 4,000 state delegates, while the Utah Democratic Party sports 2,700 state delegates.  It takes 60 percent of those state delegates – 2,400 for the Republicans and 1,600 for the Democrats – to move a candidate forward unopposed. Primaries are held when no single candidate is able to obtain the majority vote.

Overall, there are some 20,000 delegates between the two political parties thoughout the state.

“That small group chooses candidates for everyone,” Morgan said.

Instead of going through the caucuses, Count My Vote would simply require potential candidates to get the signatures of 2 percent of registered party members in the jurisdiction they reside.

It is estimated that the delegates make up 0.3 percent of the state’s population; that means 99 percent of Utah gets ignored, said Mike S. Leavitt, a Count My Vote volunteer and son of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt.

“We believe that under a more open (system),” Mike S. Leavitt said, “it allows all voters to have a more open voice.”

Carmen Snow, a local Count My Vote volunteer, said Count My Vote really wouldn’t do away with the caucus-convention system. The political parties could still hold caucuses and conventions and endorse their candidate of choice leading into an open primary.

“The people will have a choice and a vote,” Snow said.

Count My Vote also outlines additional reasons why its proponents maintain that a direct primary is more beneficial than the current system:

  • Direct primaries are simple and more accessible
  • Delegates don’t always reflect the priorities and values of Utah voters, and instead side with so-called extreme elements within their party
  • Individuals excluded by the current system can be included, such as working Utahns, members of the military, missionaries, and others

Well known supporters of Count My Vote include former Utah Govs. Mike O. Leavitt and Olene Walker, as well as former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett. Both Mike O. Leavitt and Walker were slated to be at the event, but were unable to attend.

Not everyone is convinced the initiative is a good idea.

“It’s very dangerous,” Utah House District 62 Rep. Jon Stanard said. He and others also gathered at the theater to voice their opposition to Count My Vote.

Right now Utah officials have to be responsive to the people, Stanard said. A direct primary could make the candidates and subsequently elected officials more accountable to whoever are their campaign contributors.

“The influence goes to whoever the donor is,” Stanard said.

In general, primaries can be expensive for candidates, the additional revenue donors could bring – and the attached influence – is an issue to Count My Vote opponents. Going through a direct primary could substantially raise the cost of campaigning and possibly exclude potential candidates who could otherwise advance with enough delegate support without breaking the bank.

“If you always have to go through a primary, it definitely increases the cost,” said Larry Meyers, a Count My Vote opponent.

In the four times he has run for public office, Meyers said, twice he made it to the primaries. He easily spent five times as much money during the primary phase of those campaigns, he said, and significantly less otherwise.

Due to the concerns of money tainting the election process if direct primaries are allowed, opponents have taken to calling the initiative “Buy My Vote.”

As for the idea that the current system hinders voting participation, Meyers said: “Nobody is being denied the vote. That’s just a false premise they’re setting up.”

Anyone who is a registered Democrat or Republican has the freedom to attend their associated caucuses and participate accordingly, Meyers said.

Recently, the Hurricane City Council passed a resolution supporting the caucus system in its Nov. 21 meeting.

Opponents of Count My Vote have also created a counter-movement called “Protect Out Neighborhood Elections.”

James Humphries, media and public relations chair for Protect Our Neighborhood Elections, has taken issue with the statistics used by Count My Vote.

He said the 0.3 percentage representing state delegates versus the state population is based solely on the 4,000 GOP state delegates. The 99 percent that gets ignored, according to Count My Vote, includes members of other parties, unaffiliated voters, and individuals under the age of 18 – the entirety of Utah’s 1.9 million residents.

“They’re very good at using stats out of context,” Humphries said.

Earlier this year an effort was made by a number of Utah Republicans to reform the state party’s caucus system. When those efforts failed to pass in May, reform supporters moved forward with the Count My Vote initiative.

In order to get the initiative on the November 2014 ballot, Count My Vote supporters need to gather over 102,000 signatures by April 15, 2014.

Ed. Note: The number of state delegates originally reported was found to be in error and has been corrected.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

A man signs the Count My Vote petition to get the initiative on the ballot next year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 30, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
A man signs the Count My Vote petition to get the initiative on the ballot next year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 30, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

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10 Comments

  • utah_1 December 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

    “there are some 4,000 delegates between them. The Republicans maintain 2,400 delegates, with the Democrats hold the reaming 1,800.”

    This comment is wrong. There are 4,000 state delegates for the GOP and many more than that county delegates.

    The democratic state delegates include 2700 state delegates and many more county delegates.

    There are closer to 20,000 delegates between the two parties and less than 30,000 delegates if you include the other parties.

    • Mori Kessler Mori Kessler December 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      The number of delegates has been confirmed and corrected. Thank you for pointing this out. Our apologies for getting the numbers confused.

  • Old Dog December 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Looks like a bunch of old people, the kind that claim to not want socialism while demanding the government do more for them.

  • utah_1 December 2, 2013 at 12:56 am

    “Carmen Snow, a local Count My Vote volunteer, said Count My Vote really wouldn’t do away with the caucus-convention system. The political parties could still hold caucuses and conventions and endorse their candidate of choice leading into an open primary.”

    Like telling the legislature they can meet but they can’t vote on laws anymore. The idea that we could put a nomination on the ballot is limited, if it exists, See lines 100 and 101 of CMV.

    We don’t use that kind of ballot anymore typically in Utah, and based on lines 112 to 114 would likely be struck down in court if we did.

    Also, it isn’t an “open” primary it is a proposed direct primary and CMV doesn’t open them.

    • utah_1 December 2, 2013 at 12:58 am

      Should read put an endorsement on the ballot. CMV strips out any nomination votes by delegates except the mid term elections if someone steps down.

  • Gunther December 2, 2013 at 7:58 am

    “The current system right now empowers a small handful of individuals,” said Taylor Morgan, Count My Vote’s executive director.

    That is a very true statement. A very small percentage of the 15-20% who vote regularly must be the ones mentioned here. None of this voting stuff ever being discussed effects the other 80-85% of the folks who never vote. If they were concerned about the political process, they would get out and vote.

    The caucus system is a good idea and should be kept in place. It assures that a group of well informed people can determine who the other uninformed people can vote for. Seems fair to me.

  • Bender December 2, 2013 at 9:09 am

    If you are of the opinion that Mike Lee is a swell guy then the current caucus system is your bag if tea. It allows a handful of prune mouthed church ladies, frightened of the bogey man behind every bush, to determine the republican nominee.
    .
    The vast majority of the rest of us – republicans, independents and democrats – are fed up with the insular, narrow minded, and petty nominees you right wing loons keep forcing on us.
    .
    Vive la revolution!

    • You Right December 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      I think it’s a three horse race between Chaffetz and Hatch and Lee as the worst person Utah could have elected.

  • FairVoter December 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Bipartisan cartels cheat all Utahns out of fair elections.

    To replace winner-take-all elections with more competitive and representative, spoiler-proof and gerrymander-proof proportional representation elections, check out FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

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