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Guest opinion: Political party conventions need more participation

By Tricia Bunderson - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 20, 2022

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Tricia Bunderson

Utah’s caucus-convention system isn’t serving its citizens. Allow me to illustrate by introducing you to the candidate who will in all likelihood become the next Utah County clerk and have the important job of administering elections and overseeing official documents: Mr. Aaron Davidson.

Last year, Davidson was charged in court for disrupting an Alpine School District board meeting, and he also received another infraction for disorderly conduct. If that’s not concerning enough, his stated goal as county clerk is to dismantle Utah’s very popular, secure and accessible vote-by-mail system.

Davidson beat out two other Republican candidates by a large enough margin at the county convention to avoid a primary race and earn the nomination for county clerk. He will almost assuredly win the general election too — no Democrat or United Utah Party candidates filed for this race, and the only other challenger on the ballot this November is a candidate from the far-right Independent American Party.

Now, you might be wondering, “How on earth did we get here?” Part of the answer lies in the structure of the caucus-convention system.

Caucuses are poorly attended; less than 5% of voters typically go to caucus meetings. It is also no secret that party delegates are overall much more conservative than the average Utah Republican voter. Polls done by UtahPolicy show that 47% of rank-and-file Republicans consider themselves “very conservative,” and 39% say they are “somewhat conservative.” Contrast this with Republican Delegates: 62% describe themselves as “very conservative,” and 29% indicate “somewhat conservative.” That’s a significant shift to the right.

When these delegates gather at the convention, it produces a breeding ground for extremism that is out of step with the vast majority of voters. The citizens of Utah County don’t want an elected official who has a history of harassing public servants and whose aim is to take away mail-in voting.

On the whole, Utahns are big fans of our voting system, and for good reason. First, it’s very accessible. Representative government works better when more voices are heard, and mail-in voting has substantially increased voter turnout across the state.

The second reason Utahns like voting by mail is because it saves taxpayer dollars. Returning to in-person voting would cost local governments a total of $36.8 million in one-time costs and another $19.2 million every year thereafter, potentially tripling the price tag on our elections.

Finally, Utahns understand that our mail-in voting system has effective processes to ensure security. Individuals can track their ballot online; they know that barcodes and signature verification systems are very robust; and they are aware of strict legal penalties for those who commit fraud or interfere with election security. Ninety percent of all Utahns have now voted by mail, with a supermajority of people saying they believe the system is secure and accurate. Citizens of Utah County deserve a clerk who will represent those views, not push a nonsensical position rooted in lies about voter fraud.

It is too late to change the outcome for this particular race. We will likely have Aaron Davidson as our county clerk for this next election cycle. But I hope this is a wake-up call to the average voter.

It has been said, “Every election is determined by the people who show up.”

My Utah County friends, we need to show up. Not just for the general election. And even long before the primary election.

Showing up might look like this: more moderates attending caucus meetings and running as delegates; gathering signatures for candidates; donating to a campaign; paying attention to lesser-known races; encouraging people from various parties to run for office; and talking to neighbors and friends about the caucus-convention system.

If we’d like leaders who behave in a civil manner, it’s time to start paying attention. If we want to keep our excellent voting system, we’ve got to show up. If we value the idea of our voices being accurately represented, we need to consider if the caucus-convention system is actually serving that goal.

Tricia Bunderson is a mom of four kids by day, ER nurse by night and civics advocate in the scraps of time in between.


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