Group looking to alter caucus convention system

2013-01-08T00:19:00Z 2013-04-30T13:56:06Z Group looking to alter caucus convention systemBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 08, 2013 12:19 am  • 

A group of Utahns want to alter the way Utah chooses candidates for primary elections.

The team, led by Utah County Republican Jeremy Roberts, began the process on Monday of gathering signatures needed to add an additional path to the ballot. He is hoping to get his proposal on the 2014 ballot, and he will need about 102,000 signatures from 26 of the 29 counties to get it there.

"This is not a life-altering change," Roberts said. "I strongly support the caucus-convention system. This is about increasing participation in Utah's election process."

The proposed change still will allow for political parties to choose a party's officially endorsed candidate at the convention. However, if another candidate can get signatures that add up to 2 percent of the registered voters in his or her district, then that candidate will be added to the primary election ballot.

Roberts noted that the party nominee would have a designation on the ballot explaining to the voters which candidate is the choice of the delegates of a particular party.

Some say this is an attempt to weaken the caucus-convention system. Roberts contends that the petition process would actually strengthen the caucus-convention system, as it would drive up the desire of delegates to select a solid candidate who won't be challenged through a petition effort.

This isn't the first attempt to change the system. In 2011 former Utah governor Mike Leavitt and Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute, spearheaded an effort to create a petition path to the ballot. They later backed off from the attempt, saying they needed more time to put together a successful campaign to get the idea on the ballot for voters to decide.

The idea, of course, isn't sitting well with those who are entrenched in the political parties in the state. The proposal could demean the process they use to select candidates for public office and undermine the work of delegates at a county or state convention.

"The caucus system is a tried-and-true, well-proven system and I fully support continuing with the candidate selection process that we have in place," said David Acheson, chairman of the Utah County Republican Party.

Many party delegates argue the caucus-convention system allows candidates who are not wealthy to have a fighting chance in elections. They argue it allows for candidates to use retail politics of walking the streets and talking to neighbors and having small town hall meetings to win an election over expensive television commercials and billboards.

But Roberts and his supporters argue the current Utah election system is only including less than 1 percent of the state in the selection of candidates and causing those who aren't fortunate enough to be elected a delegate at their caucus meetings to be left out of major political decisions in the state, and leaving them uninterested in the political process in Utah.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
Read more from Billy Hesterman here.

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