A Grassroot Effort to Save the Caucus
For the past 3 weeks, dozens of caucus loving volunteers, and a few passionate paid staff from Keep My Voice, have been on a reverse signature gathering mission.
Their goal: To disqualify what they see as a dangerous and poorly written petition.
The Direct Primary Election Act (Count My Vote), is under heavy criticism by many citizens of Utah, both Republican and Democrats alike, but perhaps no one is more critical of the petition than those that signed it. Volunteers reported an average of 70% success, or more, in getting signatures removed after explaining what was in the petition.
“It gets rid of the caucus?” citizens asked, door after door. “They told me it would help more people get on the ballot, they never said it would get rid of the caucus!”
It was no easy task to go to a stranger’s door, tell them they had been misled, and convince them to give up personal information for a cause, and yet the volunteers found success in being open and honest.
While many citizens reported never signing the petition, leading to concerns of identity theft and fraud, the majority of signers of the petition seem to have simply not had all the facts.
Using the public database to find only those that signed, a common approach went like this:
“Hi, is your name ________? My name is _______, do you remember some paid signature gatherers coming by a few months ago? Well in that stack of signatures there was one that was really concerning to me. It’s called the “Direct Primary Elections Act,” and the concerns I have with it are that it would essentially void the caucus system, and allow unlimited candidates to get on the ballot.
“My primary concern is that I believe in the caucus system. It can be improved upon, of course, but I really like that neighbors can elect each other to properly vet the candidates, and I really value that vetting process. I’ve seen how effective it can be.
“Now, we’ve found that a lot of people didn’t realize what it was they were signing, so I’m just going around and letting people know so they can make an informed decision on whether they want to keep their signature on the petition or not.
“If you intended to sign a petition that would do away with the effectiveness of the caucus system, that’s fine, we’re just letting people know. If you did not mean to do that, the State of Utah has provided these forms so you can remove your signature from the petition.
“Do you have any questions over what I have shared with you today?”
Green – Signature removal form complete
Blue – Not home
Red – Contacted but refused
While it is true that Count My Vote version 2.1 does make it significantly easier than previous versions to get on the ballot, that may not be a good thing:
“To get on the statewide ballot in the 2003 California recall, you only had to submit 65 signatures of registered voters and pay a $3,500 fee. No partisan primaries to slog through and less than 11 weeks of campaigning…
“So ultimately 135 Californians qualified to run for governor, a mix of legitimate political contenders, publicity-seekers and some who just thought it would be fun to see their names on the ballot. “
Not only would the Direct Primary Election Act lower the threshold to just 1% of the voting population of the party in the county or state, California’s example shows that it allows an unlimited number of candidates to get on the ballot. With 135 candidates on the ballot, a candidate could win and election and begin making laws for the county or state with less than 1% support from the community.
“I don’t want to be like California,” volunteers explained. “Utah has been ranked among the best run states in the nation for years. I think that’s because the caucus system makes the candidates more accountable.”
“The delegates represent the people,” another volunteer shared. “We aren’t bad guys, we’re your neighbors. If you don’t like the way the system is running, come to caucus night! Let’s fix it! Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Concerns with the Direct Primary Election Act run deeper still.
“I actually called Count My Vote headquarters, I asked them to add in a runoff between the top two candidates, so the primary winner has majority support. Sure it would be more expensive, but why should they suddenly care about expenses all the sudden? Primaries are always more expensive than conventions, at least a runoff make the primaries less divisive.”
(Volunteer requested to remain unnamed)
This same volunteer received a signature removal form from a registered Democrat because of her concern that a “radical” Republican could split the moderate vote and win the election.
Another concern for Utah Republicans is that four of the five sponsors of the bill are either registered Democrats, or appear to by more sympathetic to Liberal principles than Conservative ones. This is not to say that they are bad people, only that their views do not reflect Republican/Conservative principles, which are most commonly held by the majority of Utahns.
- Ben McAdams (D) mayor of Salt Lake County, and registered Democrat.
- Norma W. Matheson (D), wife of Scott Matheson (last Utah governor to be a registered Democrat) and leader in the Utah Democratic Party.
- Rich McKeown (D), author and registered democrat.
- Kem Gardner (D) wealthy businessman, former Democratic Utah Governor candidate, and Hillary Clinton supporter.
- Mike Levitt (R) former governor of Utah, his businesses, such as Leavitt Partners, tend to be proponents of liberal programs such as Obamacare.
The most common criticism of the pro-caucus movement, ironically, is that it is funded by a wealthy Conservative.
BallotPedia reports the Direct Primary Election Act received $838,371 in donations in the last 2 years, and over $3 million since 2013. In contrast, Keep My Voice, the pro-caucus movement, is reported to have received $52,850 in donations.
Once a direct primary system is in place, the biggest spender wins 91% of the time, because they require candidates reach as many voters as possible. Caucus/convention races only have to reach a small number of elected neighborhood delegates. This allows candidates more time per voter, making it far cheaper and easier for a principled “underdog” to run a successful campaign against an entrenched incumbent.
Another criticism is that the Direct Primary Election Act does not technically “void” the neighborhood caucus system.
This is technically true, but practically false. What the petition would do is makes the caucus ineffective. It does so by pushing the dates between caucus night and the convention to only a few days apart. That is simply not enough time for delegates to vet candidates, or candidates to earn the trust of the elected neighborhood delegates. Many delegates take their role seriously, and want to make an informed decision before voting. With so many candidates running in so many races, a few days is not nearly enough time for the convention system to be any more effective than direct primaries.
“But what about democracy! Don’t you respect the will of the people?”
The debate between pure democracy (mob rule) and a republic (representative government) is an ongoing one. Democrats typically choose to favor democracy, while Republicans tend to favor a republic. To find out why, check out our article, “Representative Republic vs Pure Democracy”
Hope for Success
After weeks of hard work in the sun, and receiving hundreds of signature removal requests (estimates exceed 600 in Washington County alone, roughly 20% of qualified signatures submitted in that county), the pro-caucus effort hopes to have successfully beaten the “Establishment” move to undercut the grassroot voices of Utah.
The greater victory is not only in having disqualified so many signatures, but in thwarting the direct primary election efforts year after year. Perhaps those trying to kill the grassroots voices of the caucus system, those afraid of the vetting process of neighborhood delegates, will waste their money elsewhere. The caucus is here to stay.
Now it’s time to make it better.