On the EDge: Count My Vote? Please

OPINION – On Sunday, it was announced that a compromise had been reached in proposed legislation to bring a little equality into Utah’s voting practices.

The compromise would allow the state’s antiquated caucus-convention system to remain in place, with a backdoor open to those who acquire enough signatures to qualify for a primary election runoff.

The formula is about as muddled as the new NASCAR method of determining a champion and they will discuss it in the Legislature today. Of course, not many people are happy with compromise of any kind.

Utah adopted the caucus-convention system in 1896, along with every other state in the Union. Except for a 10-year period when Utah went to the primary system – from 1937-1947 – elections, especially those in the last 40 or so years, have been decided in people’s living rooms instead of at the polls as the neighborhood caucuses decided whose name would be placed on the ballot. The state convention would rubber-stamp the candidates chosen during the neighborhood caucuses and, for all intents and purposes, the deal was done with the general election little more than a formality.

The effects are deleterious to the system, resulting in general malaise among the voting public which is turning away from the elections in rising numbers.

On the surface, the numbers don’t look too bad. There was an 80 percent voter turnout, in fact, in the last Presidential election, pushed, no doubt, by the presence of Mitt Romney on the ballot.

But, that 80 percent dims quickly when you qualify it by factoring in the more than half-million people of voting age who are not registered voters and sat it out on the couch. Add that to the equation and the 80 percent number is suddenly meaningless when you realize that only 56 percent of eligible voters in the state cast ballots. So even with a slight Romney bump – he can be credited with a 2.6 percent increase – Utah rolled in 39th in the national turnout rankings. Without Romney, Utah would have ended up in the bottom nine, or worse, where it has languished for some time.

The reason?

Voters are tired of not having a say, and that is a result of the caucus-convention system where the old guard rustles up enough firepower to push through whoever promises the better deal.

We’ve also seen extremist factions hijack a political party, as in the case of Gov. Olene Walker and Sen. Bob Bennett.

So what happens with a caucus-convention system is that it creates insiders, who make the decisions, and outsiders, who can either go along with the kingmakers or throw their hands up in despair.

The power of the vote is that it is to be uninfluenced, cast without fear of reprisal. How can that occur in a setting akin to a caucus where you may be sitting next to your boss, your father, your liturgical leader? Do you really want to pick a political fight with those folks?

In the Utah culture, consensus is an unwritten rule. It’s why, more often than not, you will see unanimity in decisions made by our city councils or county commissions. If you don’t think that mentality permeates the caucus meetings, think again. Opposing views and candidates are not readily accepted, even from within the same party, and often, it seems, candidates emerge because it is “their turn.”

As I mentioned once in a column, I knew a candidate for a public office who sought his father’s counsel to decide if he should run.

“I want to do this, Dad,” he said.

“Well, you won’t get my vote,” his father said. “It’s not your turn yet.”

I’ve written columns and editorials over the years, bashing those who have turned away from the election booth, accusing them of apathy.

I apologize because after watching so few rule so many for so long, I understand that until the power of the vote is restored, we really have no power and your vote is meaningless.

And, if you want to feel some real frustration, imagine, if you will, that you are 50 shades of blue in one of the reddest states in the Union. Seriously, when was the last time a liberal was elected to statewide or national office here? Even the Dems we elect are DINOs (Democrats In Name Only.)

I know the response: “If you don’t like it, leave.”

That, unfortunately, is not an option for most people who are turned off by the lack of choices, even within their own party, and decide they have better things to do on election day.

Attend a caucus some time and you will see that they are pretty much run by the same people who have used their influence for years, whether for political or economic gain. They know how to use the system to rig the system, virtually nullifying the system. I mean, by the time the conventions are completed, what’s the use?

Expect little of substance to come from the Legislature on this, by the way. These are, for the most part, pros who have learned how to hold onto their jobs and will do nothing to jeopardize their political futures.

Even if it is for the good of the people.

No bad days!

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

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • Mark Armstrong March 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I love the caucus system for the reasons that the author denigrates it. It is the only way for a third party(even one working from within one of the two big parties)to get some power in the establishment malaise that pervades every aspect of government. The ousting of Bob Bennett is a perfect example. He had the money, and the backing of the political class, but the grassroots got together and kicked the mealy mouthed political hack out of office. The caucus system is the perfect way for the people to elect those that they think will represent them best. Instead of complaining about the caucus system, get involved. The caucus is the definition of grass roots. It requires an active electorate. I for one don’t think we need more voters, if someone is too lazy to participate in their local political process, get to know their neighbors, and actively advocate their beliefs, then I don’t want them voting. They have shown through idleness and apathy that they don’t have the ability to exercise their franchise intelligently.

    • Biden 2016 March 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      I agree with Mark. Well said. “They have shown through idleness and apathy that they don’t have the ability to exercise their franchise intelligently.” This is exactly why we have Barney Fife in the White House trying deal with Putin.

    • Bub March 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Which 3rd party has it ever elected? It’s kept Orrin in there for about 300 years and put a wing-nut like Lee in office. I’d say it’s a crappy system.

  • Bub March 4, 2014 at 10:26 am

    And it came to pass that THE LARD sayeth to the sheeples that they shall forever vote for the rupublican candidate and THE LARD was pleased, and so the sheeples will be rewarded of the fruits of the heavens.

    • Biden 2016 March 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Watch out for lightning bolts Bub.

  • McMurphy March 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Despite what the column suggests the caucus system is not universally bad and the primary system universally good. Both systems can be controlled by establishment or machine networks. So — is the network smaller and local or larger and statewide? Which one can the average concerned citizen more likely have a say in and influence? The 80% and 56% stats may not be the result of the caucus system but rather the dominance of the Republican party. While we like to pretend that every vote counts, that is often not true. When one party is so dominant the votes of the other party doesn’t matter and the votes of the same party are not needed and make no difference.

  • Brian March 4, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    So says the antiquated hippie. What you’re really proposing in your column is a democracy, rather than a republic. The caucus system allows us to choose informed people who then represent us (a republic). An open primary gives everyone a single, usually uninformed vote in a massive popularity contest (a democracy).

    Look what happened when the choice of senators was turned into a popularity contest (open vote), rather than chosen by the legislature (elected representatives, a republic): absolute corruption. Our senators don’t represent Utah, they represent people in DC.

    If people are too lazy to get off their couches and go to a caucus then they don’t want to really have a voice. They just want a free sticker that makes them think they do.

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