If you are one of the more than 100,000 Utahns who took the time to sign the Count My Vote petition just to have the group compromise with legislators without putting it on the ballot, you may be wondering if you’ve been had. It depends on how you look at it.
If you live under a rock or don‘t bother to participate in the election process, you may not know that Utah voters do not choose the candidates that get on the ballot. This is done at the neighborhood level using a system of caucuses. Those actively participating attend meetings and elect delegates that go to party conventions and pick who runs for office. There are at least two schools of thought about this system. One says it keeps it local, the other says people who participate often have extreme views and candidates with extreme views get on the ballot. Count My Vote wants to eliminate caucuses.
The result in Utah has been a very conservative group has controlled the political landscape for a long time. Seemingly untouchable, Republicans have been able to split Utah’s voting districts, making it difficult for opposition candidates to win. The Legislature has been able to pass stricter voting laws, lax campaign and ethics laws, and keep their agenda the only agenda. The result has been a closed, corrupt system that excludes the voice of the people (non-discrimination laws, liquor laws, transparency, attorney general scandal, closed Republican primary, etc.).
If you signed the petition and are wondering if the compromise reached in SB54 will continue to limit your voice, take heart. While it may not give everything asked for by Count My Vote, it does open Utah primaries to more people, inviting higher voter participation.
The party caucuses and conventions will still exist. If you want your voice heard, you can participate on this level. If you are not available the day of the caucus, you can still participate. Once candidates are chosen at the conventions, others can get on the ballot by petition. One of the most important changes: Party primaries will not be closed. That means Democrats and Unaffiliated voters can vote in the primary of their choice, including the Republican primary.
The compromise isn’t perfect, especially because the voter initiative was gaining momentum. This scared legislators. The first SB54 was a way to make the process harder. The second substitute makes two things obvious: Republicans heard the roar, but they are still in control. It didn’t get on the ballot.
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Source: Count My Vote, Utah Legislature, Deseret News, Alliance for a Better Utah