Your Party, Your Vote
Utah Democratic Party delegates will make history at the party’s June 22 Organizing Convention. The delegates will decide if the Utah Democratic Party will keep the present caucus system or move to a direct primary. In advance of the convention vote, Democrats opened a period of public debate and comment Monday regarding the potential switch. The final decision will be made by delegates from across the state on June 22, 2013 at the state’s organizing convention in Ogden’s Eccles Conference Center.
Democrats are encouraged to weigh in using the form below, or to see what others are saying here.
The final decision will be made on June 22, 2013 at the state’s organizing convention in Ogden’s Eccles Center.
Utah’s caucus system has been in place since 1896. Although the numbers have changed over the years, the caucus system allows candidates who receive 60% or more of the delegate vote to advance to the general election without facing a primary. The system also narrows the field of candidates to no more than two for a primary election. Delegates for the caucus system are elected at the precinct level during neighborhood caucus meetings in March and at the county conventions. All meetings currently must be attended in person.
Though there has been frequent public speculation, most recently from Republican-fronted interest groups, the caucus system does not appear to have a direct impact on voter participation. While Utah’s voter participation rates have plummeted over the last 40 years, the caucus system was intact long before the decline in participation. Additionally, of states with a caucus system, only Utah lies at the bottom of the list in terms of voter participation. In fact, Colorado and Virginia, both caucus states, were in the top 10 for voter turnout.
The voter participation argument is a red herring. Let’s get to some arguments that aren’t.
Arguments in Favor of the Caucus System
The caucus system provides an avenue for candidates with little name recognition and financial capacity to competitively seek the party’s nomination. By recruiting community leaders, activists, and volunteers, the caucus system requires candidates to set up a grassroots infrastructure at the neighborhood level to elect delegates to the county and state conventions. This can be done by nearly anyone, and does not necessarily favor incumbency, broad name recognition, or those with large financial resources. The process also brings candidates into the community, benefiting individuals with strong community and grassroots support, rather than large political endorsements and grasstops relationships.
For candidates, the caucus system is far less expensive than a full blown primary. There is little to no need for major paid media efforts (i.e. direct mail, radio, or television). The universe of delegates is also relatively small, and a candidate is encouraged to develop an individual relationship with the community activists and volunteers. This process often leads to a strong volunteer structure and network that can be mobilized during primary and general election efforts.
Arguments Opposed to the Caucus System
While there may be benefits for the candidates and the political parties, the caucus system is exclusionary, allowing only the activists and those with knowledge of the system the opportunity to participate. Additionally, the broader public’s voice is excluded from the nomination process because only those who are physically able to attend the caucus meetings, county convention, and state convention are given the opportunity vote.
The requirement of time and knowledge of the system lead to only the extremes of the political party participating in the process. Candidates seeking the nomination need to appeal to the base activists of the political party, and they need to continue to appeal to those activists throughout their term in office. This results in more extreme and less collaborative policies which do not reflect the interests of everyday Utahns.
Finally, there is an argument that new candidates benefit from a primary election. Primaries allow candidates to raise money and build a base of core supporters. They also provide an opportunity for candidate to generate earned media, build name recognition, and begin to establish a brand with the electorate long before the general election.
So what should we do? Weigh in below, or see what others are saying here!