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.
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!
- Caucus, direct primary compromise bill passes committee
- Dixie Republican Forum discusses opposing Count My Vote ballot initiative
- Trust voters or know candidates? Count My Vote rallies politicians, groups on both sides
- Perspectives: Utah’s caucus system thwarts oligarchy
- Hurricane urges continuation of caucus system
- Perspectives: Bamboozling us out of the caucus system
- Wright Leaning: Saving Utah’s caucus system
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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