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Utah neighborhood caucuses: Democrats move forward while Republicans concerned

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Utah’s two main political parties held their neighborhood caucuses focusing on this year’s election this week. This follows passage of legislation changing election laws effective next year, making it the last time the old system will be completely intact.

Democrats held their meetings on Tuesday, March 18 throughout the state. Focus had firmly moved from the caucus system to voter participation. According to State Senator Luz Robles-D, Salt Lake City, Utah voters rank 47th in voter participation in the United States. She told those participating at a meeting at Ensign School in Salt Lake City’s Avenues, “This is about voters. If people are not voting we’re not going to change anything in Utah.”

Republican neighborhood caucuses were held on Thursday, with more focus on changes in the caucus system. Some participants voiced concern that the new law will favor candidates with deep pockets. In a statement, Utah COP Chair James Evans said the party is pleased the caucus system has been preserved because it “gives an average citizen a realistic chance of being elected to public office without having to expend great sums of money.” There were also concerns that participation in the caucuses will drop once the new law comes into play, as well as talk of how an open Republican primary could change election turnout. Republicans have been able to control policy in the state for decades.

SB54, now been signed by Governor Gary Herbert, keeps the caucuses in place but allows candidates to qualify for a primary ballot without being elected at the convention by collecting signatures on a petition. The new law also allows people who are not available the night of the caucus to participate, and creates open primaries for all parties. In the past, only registered republicans could vote in the closed republican primaries, while the democrats and independents held open races.

A huge push by the group Count My Vote had more than 100,000 signatures on a petition to do away with the caucus system. The current system allows those who participate to select delegates who attend the party convention and decide who gets on the ballot in Utah. That means those who participate at the neighborhood level have great influence over who is eventually elected.

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Source: FOX13 News, Deseret News

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